As a music writer, I see a lot of concerts. And I can say honestly say that from the opening act to the second encore, British folk rocker Richard Thompson’s concert Thursday night at the Lincoln Theatre was among the very best I have ever seen.
Richard proved that his reputation — as a guitar god, evocative singer, and a fantastic live act — is completely deserved, and the audience responded with tremendous appreciation for his talents. I lost count of the exact number of standing ovations, many of them coming midsong for Richard’s mind-melting guitar solos.
Opening his set with a couple of songs from his new album, 13 Rivers, released in September via New West Records, Richard first performed “Bones of Gilead.” At the end of the song, Richard leapt into the air, and I caught him smiling slyly to his band. He told the audience, with his wonderfully droll British wit, “I know what you’re thinking.” Referring to the fact that the show was billed as the Richard Thompson Electric Trio, and that there had been four players on stage, he said, “That’s a rather large trio.” He explained that his guitar tech would be sitting in for a few songs.
Richard assured the audience that he would get to the “timeless classics,” but he wanted to play another new song. Next up was my favorite track from 13 Rivers, the brooding, obsessive, hard-rocking “Her Love Was Meant for Me.” Richard is categorized as a folk rocker, but he can really rock out, and here he approached the heaviness, as well as the brilliance, of Led Zeppelin.
Stream 13 Rivers by Richard Thompson on Spotify:
Next came “Take Care the Road You Choose,” followed by the deep cut “Tale in Hard Time.” Richard explained that the song was recorded in 1968 with Fairport Convention, the pioneering British folk-rock group, but they never played it live, and it has rarely been “dusted off.” A hush and a sense of deep appreciation emanated from the crowd. When artists like Richard, who have such deep, extensive, accomplished histories, reach into their catalog to share something special and unusual with their audience, they create the magic of experiencing a live musical performance.
With “Guitar Heroes,” Richard called out many of the masters he listened to growing up. The audience applauded each of the solos in the style of Django Reinhardt, Les Paul, Chuck Berry, and James Burton. At the end of the song, he received a standing ovation from the now hot crowd. After “Guitar Heroes,” Richard played another new song, “The Storm Won’t Come,” followed by “They Tore the Hippodrome Down.” Richard explained that the song is told from the point of view of an old man who has lived his whole life in a town, and he has seen it change a great deal over the years. For him, the last straw is the tearing down of the dance hall, or hippodrome.
The rhythm section left the stage, and Richard quipped that it was a “union thing.” His guitar tech brought him an acoustic guitar, and he received applause as he began playing the ballad “1952 Vincent Black Lightning.” Richard demonstrated equal wizardry with both acoustic and electric guitar, with hard, heavy rockers and tender ballads. The audience rose to its feet for the second time at the end of the song, completely under Richard’s spell.
By the last third of Richard’s set, I was completely lost in the music. I can’t say how many times, exactly, the audience stood and clapped. I recall that Richard spoke less during this part of the show. The crowd was absolutely on fire, and he went from brilliant song to the next. He played “The Rattle Within,” from 13 Rivers before playing a series of old favorites for the home stretch, beginning with one of his solo tunes, “Can’t Win.”
Introducing “Meet On The Ledge,” another song by Fairport Convention, Richard asked if some of the folks in the audience had been listening all the way along, for 50 years. Many had, and Richard asked them to do him a favor: “Don’t die, and keep buying.”
Richard played “Wall of Death,” originally recorded with his ex-wife Linda, and finished his set with “Put It There Pal” and “Tear Stained Letter” before returning for not one, but two epic encores. He first returned to the stage alone with an acoustic guitar, and played Beeswing and the Fairport Convention song “Dimming of the Day.” Another standing ovation followed this first encore. Richard left the stage, then came back out with his band, and they performed “Trying” and a cover of the Sorrows’ “Take a Heart.” At the point, the concert ended with what was at least the fourth standing ovation, and I’m pretty sure I’m undercounting.
As I left the Lincoln Theatre, I could hear audible, excited chatter. The ovations had pretty well given it away, but the audience absolutely loved this concert. As I stood up, I looked at the gentleman next to me, and I saw him absolutely glowing, a big smile lighting up his face. “That was incredible,” he said.
At least within folk rock, no one matches Richard’s triple threat of playing, writing, and singing. Only a very guitarists can hit tones as pure as his, and my good friend Patricia says he has the sexiest male voice in the world. If you have even the slightest hint of an interest in folk rock, Richard Thompson is someone you can’t miss.
As the cherry on top of this delicious musical sundae, Thursday evening’s concert featured the best opening act I’ve ever act seen. Acoustic blues musician Rory Block more than did justice to Robert Johnson with her cover of the timeless classic “Crossroads Blues.” She enchanted the audience with her tale of meeting the legendary Mississippi John Hurt in New York as a teenager in the ’60s. Her originals channeled the blues tradition in innovative, yet authentic ways, with breathtaking playing and singing.
One fellow concertgoer remarked that Rory was so good that a lesser artist than Richard would’ve been afraid that she would overshadow him. After Rory’s set, I crossed paths with her in the lobby and told her just how good her set was. I can’t recommend strongly enough that you make a point of trying to catch this immensely talented woman.