[ATTENDED: October 4, 2013] Richard Thompson at the McCarter Theatre
Back again for the (semi) annual Richard Thompson show at the McCarter Theatre. RT himself said this was his 15th year playing there more or less every year. And it seems like quite a lot of the concertgoers were multi-year attendees.
This time, Richard Thompson’s son Teddy opened. About fifteen years ago I saw Teddy open for Richard in Boston. That set was really enjoyable and I bought Teddy’s debut album. But I haven’t thought all that much about him since (he has released a number of albums since 2000).
I spent some time at this show thinking about how strange it must be to tour with your father if he is a guitar wizard. Teddy is not a guitar wizard and doesn’t try to be one. [There’s an article that I’m going to be posting about in a few days by Jonathan Franzen which deals with coping with successful fathers, so it was on my mind]. Indeed, in an article from a few years ago, Teddy said that at first he never listened to his parents music because it was folkie and he like rock. But after a while: “I started to be more aware of how much people loved [my parents],” he said. “When I started doing (music) for a living, I felt, ‘I’m not as good a guitar player as my dad. My voice isn’t as good as my mother’s.'” His mother is Linda Thompson who does have an amazing voice. So it must be intimidating to be on with a guy that is so good and so beloved.
But Teddy has a great voice as well (more powerful than Richard’s), he sounds a bit like Neil Finn from Crowded House. Teddy played about a dozen songs. I actually didn’t recognize any of them, but I enjoyed them all. As I said his voice is strong–and is really the selling point, because while the melodies are very good, they are also rather simple. I don’t know that anything was as catchy as the songs by his dad, but of course plays a very different style of music–a kind of country folk with an occasional hard edge (both Thompsons only played acoustic guitar for this show).
I don’t know what their relationship is like (I always assume that famous (relatively) people’s children hate them. But it was clear that Richard was proud of his son when he came out.
Richard’s set was amazing. He played a fantastic mix of old (spanning 40 years) and new, fast and slow, angry and touching. It was a great setlist and a great overview of his career. And of course, his between song banter was funny and charming and intelligent. In the past we have seen him from the balcony and then from the side of the stage. This time I scored 11th row center seats and you could totally see his fingering. It was on “Valerie” that Sarah said she was blown away by how fast his fingers moved (and Sarah’s not a guitar person). I love her comment that she didn’t even know if she could move her fingers that fast at all, but he can do it and even get them to land in the right place. A word about RT’s solos. Unlike heavy metal showboating soloists (which there’s nothing really wrong with, I know), RT doesn’t just play a solo, he also plays the low notes–the bass strings on his guitar–so it sounds like he is playing the song while soloing. For those of you impressed by this sort of thing, he’s using his right thumb to play the low strings while fingerpicking with his right fingers. And his left hand is playing the solos and occasionally using the thumb to help with the low notes. It’s as mind-boggling to read as it is to see.I did not keep a setlist (and for some reason the Princeton setlists never make it to setlist.com (don’t people in Princeton have the internet?)). But I’m able to piece in some of the songs:
- “Valerie” had an amazingly long solo.
- “Wall of Death” I was so excited to hear this song. A classic Richard and Linda song from 1982.
- “Saving the Good Stuff for You” is new and it sounded great. I liked it better than the recorded version.
- “Johnny’s Far Away” is his great sing along shanty song. It’s dark and kind of funny, and the audience responded quite well (his intro to this was very funny, too)
- “Pharoah” I was really surprised to hear this which is from 1988’s Amnesia.
- “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” I never ever get tired of hearing/seeing this song.
- “Sunset Song” This was a little slower than on the record. I prefer it faster.
- “Good Things Happen to Bad People” I was surprised that the reaction wasn’t greater for his new, incredibly catchy, single.
- “Walking on a Wire” Another great old Richard and Linda song.
- “Who Knows Where the Time Goes?” This was the biggest surprise of all, this is a Fairport Convention song from 1969 (on Uhalfbricking) and Richard did not write it. Sandy Denny wrote and sang it. I’ve never heard RT sing a Sandy Denny song before and while he doesn’t quite have the voice she does, his version was really nice.
- “Hamlet” by Frank Loesser was an amazing treat. I first heard him play this song about 20 years ago. I loved it but had no idea that he didn’t write it. Back in those pre-internet days it was impossible to find anything about it. Of course now a quick search brings up dozens of versions of it. It is very funny and he does an amazing job with it. (see below for a live rendering)
- “My Enemy” is another great new song from Electric.
- “Down Where the Drunkards Roll” is another Richard and Linda song. Not my favorite and quite hard to sing along to (when he asked us to), but it’s always interesting to hear these songs from his past.
- And of course a gorgeous rendition of “Beeswing.”
- “I Feel So Good” is another of my favorite songs and I love hearing it. I also love hearing him rock out on an acoustic guitar.
Then they did a couple of covers that I don’t know. They really duet quite wonderfully with Teddy’s simple guitar playing backup to RT’s and Teddy’s voice hitting beautiful harmonies over RT’s deeper gravellier voice.
Every year I think, well I’ve seen him a bunch, should I go back again? But I’m never disappointed. Every show is so different. The one year was electric guitars, then the was the 1000 years of popular music tour and now an acoustic set. If he keeps coming around I’ll keep going to see him. He hasn’t lost anything, and his guitar playing may be even better.
This is a recording of Richard singing “Persuasion” (solo) and “Hamlet.” The crowd is quite raucous.