Review by Richard Brody
Leaving his day job for the week – he is the head guitar instructor at the Frets & Refrains Music Camp at the nearby Full Moon Resort – Richard Thompson, along with his other music counselors, put on a nearly three-hour show at the sold-out Bearsville Theater in Woodstock. It captured the full breadth of his 45-year career. I have had the good fortune of seeing him many times over the last 30 years, and he has set the bar for his performances at an incredibly high level. Thompson has achieved legendary status among his fans and other musicians for his prowess on the guitar, but it was his songwriting that was center stage for this evening of acoustic music.
He is well known for his dark songs that detail romantic trials and tribulations when love goes wrong. Lines such as “Where’s the justice and where’s the sense when all the pain is on my side of the fence” from “Walking on a Wire,” (heard early in his set) reflect a relationship reality that most of us have experienced. But his songs about romance are not all grim. Thompson’s dry, acidic wit in both the introduction to and the lyrics of “Johnny’s Far Away,” a song about marital boredom, the missionary position and the opportunistic infidelity by both husband and wife, left the audience howling with laughter.
And, yes, he played some guitar. “Crawl Back (Under My Stone),” a caustic love song, got a fiery guitar bridge and a right hand that was a blur during the crescendo ending. His best known song – “1952 Vincent Black Lightning,” about motorcycles, black leather and red hair – showed off his hybrid style of playing bass and rhythm with his pick while his bottom three fingers create melody lines that run with and counter to what he is picking. With eyes closed, you would swear that there were at least two if not three guitars being played, and the loud standing ovation testified to that.