Long live rock, I need it every night

Sunday, February 03, 2008

VH1's: I Love the 11th Century

Richard Thompson -Wednesday 1/23/2008 - GW Lisner Auditorium - $39.50

I heard a Richard Thompson tune on our beloved WOXY the other day, so while not an official RC event, you get my outdated review of his show as a result. I ventured to George Washington University's Lisner Auditorium for Richard Thompson's 1,000 Years of Popular Music a couple weeks back, and I've now had plenty of time to reflect on my experience (and to forget a good chunk too). Let's first remind everyone who Richard Thompson is and is not. The Richard Thompson I went to see is NOT:

Nor is he the old dude from Law&Order who thought he could be president. As insulting as it might be to Mr.Thompson given his contribution to 20th century music, he is not a guy you hear very much on the radio (unless you listen to A Prairie Home Companion often) and a review of his recent show begs a brief introduction. Rock Club, meet Richard Thompson.

The highlights (via our wikipedia friends):
Richard Thompson (born 3 April 1949 in Notting Hill Gate, West London) is a British musician, best known for his guitar playing and songwriting. As a guitarist Thompson is notable for the breadth of his influences — which range from Buddy Holly and James Burton via Les Paul and Django Reinhardt to less likely influences such as pipe player Billy Pigg. Over a long career (he first recorded in 1967 as a member of Fairport Convention), Thompson has received much acclaim from his peers and has consistently been well-regarded by critics. While he has never become a household name — even his best-known albums have enjoyed only limited commercial success — he has earned a reputation as a skilled and compelling live performer and a consistently vital recording artist. In August 2003, Rolling Stone magazine listed Thompson as #19 on its list of The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.

This was, in fact, the second time I saw Thompson perform. Like the first time, the impetus for seeing him was my rather excitable old man. As it happens, my dad is a big Richard Thompson fan. The first RT show I saw with my dad was at Wolf Trap 4 or more years ago, I think. It was a nice summer day and the show began in broad daylight which made for more of a picnic type family experience. It was a good show, from what I remember of it, with lots of happy Baby Boomers singing along with a few of their favorite tunes.

This time around, it was a brisk wintry night and I found myself in the Lisner Auditorium for the first time. The auditorium reminded me of my high school's auditorium, a modest venue with a large wooden stage, not a bad seat in the house, which was good as we were in one of the upper rows. This was the first show that I've been to in quite a while where 100% of the audience had seats...and sat in them. At first I thought, how lame. On your feet people. But then I realized sitting isn't such a bad deal when you've had a long 3 days at the 9to5. And then I returned to my initial reaction after about 30 minutes, mostly as a result of feeling like I'd been sitting in coach for too long. I've got legs that need stretching, ya know.

Anyhow, this tour that Thompson is on is not your typical tour. The 1,000 Years concept follows pretty much as the name implies. Thompson covers songs from 1,000 years ago up to present day, forgoing any of his own songs in his performance. This show could have easily been co-sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution. Lots of history involved beginning with ancient Italian songs, bits from an opera, a dandy of a madrigal, and then a quick acceleration through the last 5 hundred years of old coal mining inspired songs, pub tunes, and the like to land us firmly in the 20th century. All and all it was not bad. Some of the tunes didn't really appeal to me, given their crusty nature, but Thompson keeps you interested regardless. Banter has been discussed on this forum a number of times. Some folks don't care for it (Jimbromski, for one). I think this has more to do with the quality of the banter than anything else. Good banter takes talent. And Thompson's banter-talent rivals his deft guitar work. Maybe it's a British thing, but the guy's like Hugh Grant up there, cracking wise and being all kinds of witty. (I know that Jimbromski is a sucker for Hugh Grant, so I wonder how he would have come to terms with it all.) When discussing the different origins of some of the tunes, he told the following joke that some have likely heard before, but nonetheless it's a good one:

IN HEAVEN: The English greet you. The French do the cooking. The Italians provide the entertainment. The Germans organize it all.

The French greet you. The English do the cooking. The Germans provide the entertainment. The Italians organize it all.

I know he's used this joke in previous concerts, but I'll bet he sang the same songs more than once too.

When it came to the end of his set, he had played songs from the Beatles, Abba, the Kinks, and other more familiar artists, but he never picked the obvious or pop tune. Instead he choose the deeper cut, a bit more obscure, and it worked well. So with the requisite encore approaching, I'm sure I wasn't the only one who thought, "okay, now he'll play a couple fan favorites from his own catalog. Everyone will go home a bit smarter, but with a sated appetite for Thompson tunes." Instead, he came out with more of the history of violins. Actually, he played a song penned by Richard the Lionheart, which was all in French since Richard I was essentially French (so I learned). So there was no 1952 Vincent Black Lightning, or any other popular Thompson tracks. And while I'm sure there were many hoping to hear something familiar (like the guy wearing the beret sitting next to me), I'm pretty sure no one left disappointed. It was a good show regardless of what music he played. Richard Thompson is that good of a performer/entertainer.


Anonymous said...

This was a very well-articulated, informative, thoughtful post. What the hell is it doing on this site?!

Please bring back the sarcasm, mockery, and borderline-offensive material which I have come to know and love. Well, mostly love. Sometimes. Whatever. You know what I mean.

Anonymous said...

How's this? I think you all suck. To infinity.

Jumbo Slice said...

A concert where you sit the entire time? Where you watch a guy in a beret play guitar? Not the typical RC show. I've heard of Fairport Convention only b/c Chip Chanko recommended a few albums to me. I'll give Mr. Thompson a listen.

Nice review Potsy. Definitely the most informative post this year.

Jimbromski said...

General Richard H. Thompson is probably preparing a frontal assault on this blog, that will be launched at the moment we least expect it.