Richard Thompson & Robert Ellis @ Birchmere, Washington DC - June 17, 2015.
We begin with an odd personality from Houston, Texas. He's got a big hollow body guitar and a microphone and does quite well with both. His guitar style is impressive--everything is picked but with his lighting left hand, It is picked quite assertively and fortunately the race between hands stays pretty much a draw the whole night.
Song-wise, I thought he started slow and that was also true of his stage patter although ultimately his odd humor worked its way through and the last couple of songs were particularly strong. Although he is a fine singer songwriter that can hold his own, I wonder if a light rhythm section may add an interesting layer to his music sending it even higher than the sum of its parts.
This is about the fifth time I have seen Richard Thompson over the last 25 years or so. I have also listened to nearly all of his music as a solo artist, collaborator, and of course with Fairport Convention. Just as the albums over the last half century are extremely varied, his live show is always just a little bit different each time around. That is due more to his backing musicians, or lack thereof, than his steady high quality vocal and guitar delivery.
This time around he is electric with drums and electric bass backing his electric and acoustic guitars. Ergo, the searing guitar solos are more a part of this set, not that they are ever truly lacking even in his acoustic solo shows. He performs a couple of acoustic numbers without the band, including a song from his latest album and the classic '1952 Vincent Black Lightning'.
He even keeps the acoustic strapped on as the band returns before handing it to his guitar tech who stays on stage to add a second guitar to 'Guitar Heroes' because as he says, "it's so complex it makes Rite of Spring look like Sugar Sugar." This songs is a long cut featuring a great original rocker talking about all of Thompson's influences that include a solo in the style of that guitarist following the verse about them.
It is a perfect reminder about what I believe makes Thompson so great. Even if you find a guitarist better (although not many), or a songwriter more amazing, or a singer more powerful, I am not sure you can find anyone who's composite score in all three categories could be any better than Richard Thompson's. And even at 66 years old, he still is not showing any signs of holding back in any of those categories. So I see no reason not to continue to grab his albums or see this superb live performance.
(1) Robert Ellis (by John Kell/Wikipedia),
(2) Richard Thompson (unknown/website).