The only thing which could have improved the Richard Thompson concert we heard at the Mahaiwe in Great Barrington, Massachusetts last night would have been if we had also been blessed with tickets for the show he did the night before at the Egg in Albany, a venue where we saw him perform his 1,000 Years of Popular Music repertoire in 2004. This performance was a make up engagement, since he was forced to cancel his shows last April after suffering a scorpion sting on the hand. Thompson acknowledged the incident early on by observing that the investment the audience had made in tickets six months ago was probably the only investment in their portfolios now to have retained any value. With that, we were off to the races.
Richard Thompson makes a guitar skip and sparkle like the prancing imp in his eye. He can induce it to croon and scream with tender regret or burning outrage, with lyrics that alternately lacerate and caress. His virtuoso fretwork is nothing less than jaw dropping. My wife always watches his hands, and said he often had three different picking routines going simultaneously, which another reviewer of Thompson's music confirms here. He can make an acoustic guitar sound like skirling pipes or launch into an arena-worthy rock out.
With more than 40 albums worth of recorded material to draw from, and a willingness to toss in a cover request from time to time, a Richard Thompson solo concert is brimming with familiar and unexpected pleasures. Last night at the Mahaiwe, he lead off with I feel So Good and then played Walking on a Wire, which was the song that set the hook for me back in my 19th year. After that, a new song like Time's Gonna Break You held its own with early gems like The Great Valerio, I Wanna See the Bright Lights Tonight, and Devonside. 1952 Vincent Black Lightning, which is for Thompson fans what his song Meet on the Ledge is for Fairport Convention, came earlier in the evening that I expected, and the half dozen or so encores included requests for Valerie, Galway to Graceland and a devastating Shoot out the Lights.
Thompson closed with A Heart Needs a Home, which left me delirous with almost post-coital satisfaction. It was that good. When we stepped out into the rain - we dancing mortals released from the faerie ring - our cheeks hurt from a year's worth of smiling. And I'm-a wait, wait, waiting for the next time...