[ATTENDED: February 17, 2012] Richard Thompson at the McCarter Theater
I have seen Richard Thompson live many times. By my last count I think it must be five or six. I’ve seen him solo and with others, I’ve seen him at Festivals and small venues. And he never fails to disappoint. RT makes an annual (or nearly annual) pilgrimage to Princeton’s McCarter Theater and the crowd is devout. The last time Sarah and I saw him was on his 1,000 Years of Popular Music tour (a wonderful extravaganza) with olde instruments and two backing players. But every show is different and you never know which incarnation you never know which RT you’re going to get.
This tour was just RT and his guitar and our show proved to be a (mostly) request show. Whether it was meant to be a request show is unclear (he just did three all request nights in NYC). For tonight’s show, he definitely had songs in mind but the crowd politely asked for other songs and he accommodated (he doesn’t always).
Sarah and I laughed at the demographic of the audience (a lot of gray-haired ponytails here, Sarah noted–and that was just the men). And yet next to us were a group of young rocker kids, so we were neither oldest, younger, coolest or squarest. But none of that mattered because RT bridges all groups. It was just he and his acoustic guitar, and he played slow ballads, serious rockers, funny songs and a few classics.
I didn’t know the first couple of songs (which surprised me) but it’s possible they were brand new, because why would he start what proved to be a greatest hits set with a bunch of obscure songs? Well, he’s a conundrum. Maybe anyone who was there can fill me in on the setlist.
After the first song the requests came. RT explained that he had hoped to do some songs that he wanted to play and he hoped that those songs would be ones that we wanted to hear. So obliging! When the crowd convinced him to play Britney Spears’ “Oops I did it Again” (a song he played in his 1000 Years retrospective) we knew it was going to be a great show.
And it was. He played some amazing solos (never quite as blistering as when he’s on the electric guitar, but stunning for an acoustic). More impressive was when he played lengthy, gorgeous solos and also strummed the rhythm strings–it never sounded like a guy playing guitar solos, it sounded like a full song–amazing. And RT’s voice is still incredible after all these years (he’s
62 65 (oops, sorry Richard, see comment below)). He can bellow, he can whisper he can even hit high notes (and when the audience sings along, it’s always a highlight).
I didn’t keep track of the setlist, but it played like a who’s who of RT classics (including two from the Richard and Linda period). Of course, he played “Beeswing” (as an encore) and “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” and he played several songs off his latest album Dream Attic. I’ve mentioned before that RT songs are timeless and these new songs work perfectly with the old classics. Some other songs from the set: “Persuasion,” “Crawl Back (Under My Stone),” “Easy There Steady Now,” “Shoot Out The Lights,” “Wall Of Death,” “When The Spell Is Broken,” “Valerie,” “Dimming Of the Day,” “Sidney Wells” and a wonderful surprise of “If Love Whispers Your Name” (which he says he doesn’t normally do solo because “it’s hard.”
Thompson played for 2 hours. He barely moved on stage (standing the whole time) and he was absolutely mesmerizing (belying the idea that you need a pyrotechnics show to sell a performance).
The most interesting thing about his live shows is that he himself is so personable, so friendly and funny. He really engages the audience–making jokes with them, cajoling them to sing along. It’s interesting because most of his songs are real downers–filled with heartbreak, caution, sadness and (sometimes) murder. He can make the crowd laugh as an introduction to the song about murderer Sidney Wells. He’s quite the showman.
After all these shows I still can’t decide which RT I like best–electric, acoustic, full band. I like them all. The only real question is just how many of those berets does he have? And what does he look like without it? I can’t imagine.
See you next year.