LIVE: Richard Thompson Electric Trio @ The Egg, 11/17/18
“An ornamental design consisting of intertwined flowing lines, originally found in Arabic or Moorish decoration.”
I was 16 when I bought my first Richard Thompson album, a cutout bin copy of Live! (More or Less) at the Delaware Plaza Record Town.
I’d read a bit about him in the rags, Creem, Circus or one of those. But “arabesque” got me. On the back of the album, in the notes, a writer pointed out the “spidery arabesques” of “Calvary Cross.”
That particular live take of the song was a 13-minute dictionary, an encyclopedia, a complete set of field guides of amazing guitar licks, face-melting in a way Jack Black could never understand.
I first saw Thompson – who triple threats the hell out of the game by singing immaculately constructed songs in a voice straight from an English fen, filled with equal parts wisdom and silliness – when I was 20, a solo show in Troy, with the London twang of “Genesis Hall” imprinting me like a baby duck. I’ve literally lost count of the times I’ve seen him since then, solo, in small combos and in heroic bands loaded with Shawn Colvin, John Kirkpatrick, Dave Mattacks, Danny Thompson and others.
Last Saturday night at The Egg, lo these many years on, Thompson shattered the idea of the arabesque, going square wave every few minutes, disrupting even brittle ballads with a sense of chaotic urgency. A solo might sound like a fistfight with Robert Quine. It might sound Neil Young making love to Allen Ravenstine (look it up!). Best of all, it might sound like Richard Thompson circa 2018.
When he wasn’t going full Magic Band on the guitar, Thompson – well accompanied by Taras Prodaniuk on bass and Michael Jerome on drums – surveyed his full catalog, reaching back to his teenage days with Fairport Convention for “Tale in Hard Time” and “Meet on the Ledge,” and his latest disc, 13 Rivers, issued in September, for the show opening “Bones of Gilead” and the jittery “The Rattle Within.”
In the middle, he frequently pleased himself, playing his own favorites like Sweet Warrior’s “Take Care the Road You Choose” and Mock Tudor’s “Dry My Tears and Move On.” By show’s end, a full two hours later, he made sure to pull in fan favorites like “Wall of Death,” “Tear Stained Letter” and solo acoustic takes of the “hits” – “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” and “Beeswing.”
Due to the strength and length of that catalog, every ticket holder left completely satisfied, yet pining for their own missed touchstone – what, no “Devonside!”
To select but one solo, Thompson went epic with “You Can’t Win.” It was actually one of his more formal forays of the night, following a structure that other pickers could parse but not repeat. Make up your own insectoid words for the liner notes — a mantis-y cadenza, a flurry of stinkbug quartertones, a leaf cutter’s lapse of
judgment. Or just say it rocked.
Because we are greedy people, and The Egg’s Executive Director Peter Lesser understands that, he booked Sisters of Slide as opening act for the evening.
On their own, Rory Block and Cindy Cashdollar have pursued the craft of smacking metal against metal for many years. Together, they make a formidable slide team, hitting the concept from both Spanish and Hawaiian sides and bringing a primordial knowledge of Delta Blues and Texas Swing to the gig as well.
Block’s “Lovin’ Whiskey” is always welcome. She may not be a prolific songsmith, but damn, she’s a good one.
And the duo became a trio (much like Thompson’s band frequently became a “large trio” with the addition of guitar tech Bobby Eichorn) for “The Water Is Wide.” While Block anchored the haunting, gospel-tinged chestnut with a repeating figure, Cashdollar and Thompson traded solos that took the song to new places in the river, submerging and surfacing, taking draughts of pure air and releasing them.
It was a reminder of what music can be.
Thompson finished the tune with a spidery arabesque.