Sunday 6 February, 2017
A slightly disappointing acoustic show, sat on a broken seat, listening to an erratic setlist, with RT wrapping it up and going home a good half hour before the curfew. Perhaps I'm just spoiled, as I saw him put on a truly wonderful show at the Bridgewater Hall a decade ago, and I wish I was still there.
Thompson’s singing is still pretty good and his guitar-playing is – of course – unparalleled, but for someone who has the songs that Thompson has, it seems odd that he would choose to play these ones – especially compared to the setlist of his Christmas shows in the States. Dressed in army trousers, a denim vest and the obligatory Kangol beret, he comes on grinning and relaxed, but the first half hour is deathly dull aside from a welcome, fingers-afire 'Vincent Black Lightning 1952', and though the show picks up after a delightfully offhand 'Crocodile Tears' and a rocky 'Wall of Death', he doesn't mine his rich stock of beguiling ballads at all: there's no 'End of the Rainbow', 'Al Bowly's in Heaven' or 'Waltzing for Dreamers' (the closest we get is ‘Tore Down the Hippodrome’), and so there's little real variety of tone or tempo, the gig just sort of plodding along.
It doesn't help that his solitary guest, Liverpudlian vocalist Siobhan Maher Kennedy, offers merely nondescript backing, and doesn't seem to have rehearsed. Their badinage, accentuated by Thompson's good humour and ready wit, is charming, but their collaboration is flat and uninspired, typified by their final number together. Considering that there are nine great songs on Richard and Linda Thompson's 1973 album, I Want to See the Bright Lights, it's perverse that he would choose the other one: the uplifting but uninspired title track. I know that art is subjective, but I’m not alone in this contention, especially when we’re talking about trading the acoustic, egg-shell majesty of, say, ‘The Great Valerio’ for an acoustic version of an electric song.
Then he's gone, re-appearing only for an uproariously updated version of his antique anti-Trump song, ‘Fergus Lang’ – appropriately enough, perhaps the evening’s highlight, sample lyric: “Fergus he builds and builds/Yet small is his erection/Fergus has a fine head of hair/When the wind’s in the right direction” – and for a single fan request: ‘Shoot Out the Lights’. Many see Richard Thompson live for the frenetic fretwork of the master guitarist. While the BBC session of Mr Lacey remains one of the most exhilarating examples of guitar play ever committed to tape, my interest is more because he’s a great writer – and singer – of sad and funny songs. There’s little of that tonight. It’s fine, but I want better than fine.
In support, Australian folkie Emily Barker was parachuted in at short notice after WildwoodKin cancelled. Dressed in a rigid silver skirt, her hair swept into a blonde bob, she begins a little blandly, but reaches a tremendous crescendo, sitting at a piano for ‘Precious Memories’ – a catchy, heartfelt paean to blues guitarist Sister Rosetta Tharpe, from the point of her view of her closest friend – and then offering a gorgeous a capella take on ‘Disappear’. (2.5)
Pic from here. Thanks for reading.