Saturday, November 01, 2008


OCTOBER 25, 2008

About 20 years ago, I got sick of reading about Richard Thompson in the rock press and went out and bought “Shoot Out the Lights”, his 1982 record (with then-wife Linda) that still shows up on most “best album of all-time” lists. I felt terribly behind the curve, as Thompson had already over 20 years worth of stuff out. But I got stung bad.

I don’t remember how many times I’ve seen him since then, 6-7 times? Always brilliant, no more so that in 2004’s “1000 Years of Popular Music”, the last time I saw him.

Until now. Saturday night’s show at Great Barrington’s little Mahaiwe Theater was so manifestly provocative, focused, entertaining, and astonishing that it’s hard to know where to start.

Thompson was solo, which means we didn’t get to see him play electric guitar, but he made up for that in spades— he assumes a fighting stance, legs slightly splayed, leaning slightly forward on the balls of his feet, and precisely batters his guitar with a mesmerizing firebrand thumb and fingerstyle technique. He actually rocks harder, much harder, when he’s alone that when he’s fronting a band.

The show was close to a career retrospective, with a couple things from 2007’s Sweet Warrior, including the anti-war “Dad’s Gonna Kill Us” (“Dad” being Baghdad), big old rockers like “Feel So Good” and “Valerie”, a couple of super-dark-to-the-point-of-hilarity treks into madness like “Hope You Like the New Me” and a devastating “Shoot Out the Lights” complete with heart-stopping guitar work, and delicate tear-jerkers like “From Galway to Graceland” and “Beeswing.” There’s always gonna be some absurdo-comic material (who can forget “Dear Janet Jackson” and “I Agree With Pat Methany”) and we got a new Brit dance-hall ode to brainy women “Hots for the Smarts”, which was chock full of money lines. My fave: “She likes to be goosed while reciting from Proust”. We even got a super-obscure Left Banke cover. And he happily took requests.

All of this was served up with dizzying guitar technique, good cheer, pathos, and more than a little machismo. Maybe it was the stage backdrop of ever-changing cool colors that made Thompson look like some kind of Celtic bohemian super-hero. Maybe it was the exquisite sound, comfortably loud, dense, and all-enveloping. The only rational response to this barrage of brilliance was to grin like a monkey and shake one’s head back and forth. And just maybe, to further the analogy Seth Rogovoy made in his blog about Thompson’s music being like a good complex scotch, maybe the guy is simply getting better and better with age. I think that’s it.


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