I’ve probably seen Richard Thompson in concert nearly two dozen times, and what surprises me about him is that he still surprises me.
At The Egg on Saturday night, Thompson and his band – fiddler Joel Zifkin, drummer Michael Jerome, bassist Taras Prodaniuk and multi-instrumentalist Pete Zorn – opened the show with an 80-minute set spotlighting a dozen new songs from his latest album, “Dream Attic” (skipping over only “Burning Man”).
It was a risky move on his part, but a rewarding one of the RT faithful. He launched the night with the biting sarcasm of “The Money Shuffle,” a rocking little ditty about shyster investment bankers. The song brought middle eastern musical flavors to the fore, and sliced deep with such typically witty Thompson lyrics as, “If you’ll just bend over a little, I think you’ll feel my financial muscle.”
There were trad-sounding ballads (“Among the Gorse, Among the Grey”), rockabilly-fueled rockers (“Haul Me Up”) and plenty of pop hooks (“Big Sun Falling in the River”).
The band really started to burn on the dramatic noir ballad “Crimescene” and the end-of-the-affair tale “Stumble On,” but they kicked into a whole new gear for the raging “Sidney Wells,” which Thompson introduced as “a good old-fashioned murder ballad.” Ripping through the Celtic-flavored slip jig in a 9/8 time signature, Thompson simply cut loose on his guitar, unleashing a torrent of mind-boggling riffs stacked one atop the other until the song built to a tsunami-like climax. Quite simply one of the best Thompson performances I’ve ever witnessed…
Spinning around 180-degrees, he followed with the tender eulogy “A Brother Slips Away” featuring an impassioned, gospelesque performance and the best vocals of the evening.
They opened the second half of the show with a rocking rendition of Emmit Rhodes’ “Time Will Show the Wiser,” which Thompson first recorded more than 40 years ago with Fairport Convention. Thompson’s torn-between-passion-and-loyalty performance sounded as fresh and honest as ever.
They eschewed most of Thompson’s best-known songs during the 55-minute second half, although they did offer a spirited “Wall of Death” and an epic, rocket-fueled rendition of the Cajun stomper “Tear Stained Letter.” Instead, they pulled out more off-the-beaten-path nuggets such as the swirling philosophic “One Door Opens,” the torrential “You Can’t Win,” the jazzy nostagia of “Al Bowlly’s in Heaven” and the pop-rocking “I’ll Never Give It Up.”
The concert may not have been the best introduction for a first-time Thompson concert-goer, but for the longtime devoted fans in the crowd – and there were quite a few of them – it was a simply magnificent evening of music.
Excerpt from Michael Hochanadel’s review at The Daily Gazette: “Even in the familiar songs, the freshest element was always Thompson’s solo, his restless search for new riffs in old songs bearing surprise after surprise. Fronting his biggest band in years, Thompson picked his spots amid solos by others: Zorn’s alto break powered ‘Tear-Stained Letter’; Zifkin shone there, too – and was often the second-hottest solo. In ‘Al Bowlly’s in Heaven,’ even Prodaniuk and Jerome got some spotlight time, and each one defied the soloing conventions on his instrument to pave new ground.”
THE RICHARD THOMPSON BAND SET LIST
The Money Shuffle
Among the Gorse, Among the Grey
Her Comes Geordie
Demons in Her Dancing Shoes
Big Sun Falling in the River
A Brother Slips Away
If Love Whispers Your Name
Time Will Show the Wiser
You Can’t Win
One Door Opens
Al Bowlly’s in Heaven
I’ll Never Give It Up
Wall of Death
Tear Stained Letter
Take Care the Road You Choose
Man in Need