Wednesday, September 19, 2012

One Man, One Guitar, Two Hours of Magic

Category:  Concert Review

Before performing his third song from a forthcoming album Richard Thompson told the capacity crowd at the Bloomington, Indiana Buskirk-Chumley Theater the first two songs he had performed were also from the new project.  The audience responded warmly with applause, to which Thompson quipped, "But the rest of the album is crap."

One thing is certain about Richard Thompson:  he hardly ever records inferior material, but with his incredible guitar playing, he can make crap sound good.

Thompson played solo as part of a brief post-Americana Music Association Awards tour.  The AMA's award ceremonies in Nashville gave Thompson the "Lifetime Achievement for Songwriting" award.  He has had a number of hits thanks to other people; namely, two country versions of "Tear-Stained Letter" and Del McCoury's cover of "1952 Vincent Black Lightning," which was the International Bluegrass Music Association's 2002 Song of the Year.  These successes as well as his masterful performance of his own songs show why that award was so richly justified.

After the two new songs Thompson jumped into familiar material, launching into a knockout version of "Valerie."  He followed with one of his most popular songs (and the song that inspired the name of his web site and record label), "Beeswing."  That was the way most of the night went:  a ballad ("I want to get those happy songs out of the way") was followed by a rocking, fun, or even funny number.

The first of four standing ovations came after his mesmerizing performance of "1952 Vincent Black Lightning."  He has described the song in other places as a simple "boy-meets-girl story, complicated by the presence of a motorcycle."  To paraphrase a line from the song, full bands don't have the soul of Thompson doing this song alone with his guitar.

With 45 years of material to draw on Thompson was sure to leave things out; however, he adequately covered all bases.  He performed "Who Knows Where the Time Goes" from his days with Fairport Convention, informing the audience that the song had been voted the favorite folk song by listeners of the BBC.  The exceptional Shoot Out the Lights album from his days with ex-wife Linda was represented by a stellar version of "Wall of Death."  Thompson even brought out a few buried chestnuts, especially "Pharaoh" from 1988's Amnesia.

Two pleasant surprises involved covers.  Noting that Hoagy Carmichael was born in Bloomington (and professing himself to be a big fan), Thompson performed a Carmichael number in the 90-year-old theater.  The other was the riotous Frank Loesser tune that distills Hamlet down to four verses.

Thompson closed out the set with "I Feel So Good" and was called back for two encores.  On the first someone from the audience yelled for "Waltzing's for Dreamers" so Thompson obliged with the song.  At the conclusion of the second encore Thompson led the crowd in singing The Band's classic "The Weight," saying after the song, "This is for you, Levon."

The tribute to the late Band drummer/vocalist was a special ending to a special night.