Home Live Review Live Review: Richard Thompson @ Wolf Trap — 4/11/24

Live Review: Richard Thompson @ Wolf Trap — 4/11/24

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Live Review: Richard Thompson @ Wolf Trap — 4/11/24
Richard Thompson (Photo courtesy High Road Touring)

There was a certain irony in Richard Thompson beginning his performance at The Barns at Wolf Trap recently with “When The Spell Is Broken.” With that first song, the spell¬†was cast, and it began a magical evening of wonderful, dazzling guitar playing, and remarkable singing.

With more than 55 years in the business, Thompson is a living legend. As a teenager, he was a founding member of the seminal British folk-rock band Fairport Convention. In the ’70s and early ’80s, he released a series of acclaimed albums with his then-wife Linda Thompson. For the last four decades, he’s worked as a solo artist, establishing an incredibly dedicated cult following. One fellow audience member, who had come all the way from Seattle to see Richard at Wolf Trap on April 11, told me he was following Richard on tour across the country.

When one hears Richard play live, it’s easy to see why he inspires such devotion. He’s one of the world’s best guitarists, and his acoustic work is spellbinding. Sitting close to the stage, it was remarkable to see his hands at work on his instrument. Compared to most singer-songwriters performing solo acoustic, Thompson places much more emphasis on his instrument, stretching out the songs with his playing. Several times during his set, he received a standing ovation for his  virtuosic playing.

In the finest troubadour tradition, Richard is also an excellent raconteur, and his stage banter and introductions were sharp, clever, and entertaining. He introduced his second number of the evening, “Poor Ditching Boy,” by saying, “Speaking of antiquity, here’s a song that was written 55 years ago.” “Poor Ditching Boy” appeared on his solo debut, Henry The Human Fly, which he humorously noted, that “according to the in-house newsletter,” was the poorest selling album in the history of the Warner Brothers catalog, “selling well into the hundreds.” He added, “This is as obscure as it’s going to get.”¬†

Stream “Poor Ditching Boy” by Richard Thompson on YouTube:

While Thompson can be quite urbane, he’s not above going for a silly, lowbrow pun. “I like album,” he said, because “it has ‘bum’ in it.” Later, talking about his forthcoming new album, Ship To Shore, he emphasized that it’s spelled “S-H-I-P,” as opposed to you-know-what.

Next up was “The Ghost of You Walks,” followed by “Valerie,” and “Beeswing.” “While we’re doing the big ballads,” he said, and kicked off one of his most beloved songs, “Vincent ’52 Black Lightning.”

A native of London, Richard’s family moved from the city’s inner to its outer suburbs during his teen. “In those days,” he said, “the buses and the tube stopped running at 11 o’clock, due to a law passed by Oliver Cromwell in 1642.” He recalled an incredible month in 1965 when he saw at, the Marquee Club, a 300-cap venue, the Yardbirds, The Who, and the Bill Evans Trio. If he left after the first set, he could catch a ride home, but, being the dedicated music lover he was, he would stay until the end of the show. This meant he had to walk home — a 10-mile trip, often a school night. He bemoaned how it affected his studies, costing him, perhaps, a career in accountancy. “Music’s been very good to me,” he said. These trips inspired “Walking The Long Miles Home.”

“If I Could Live My Life Again” was written and recorded during lockdown, appearing on Serpent’s Tears. Next up was “I Feel So Good.” After that one, Richard brought up, “Lying, greedy, self-serving politicians,” then quickly said, “If we have any here tonight, you’re the exception.” He continued, “I shall make a musical analogy between old and new,” and he played “Pharoah.”

Watch the official music video for “I Feel So Good” by Richard Thompson on YouTube:

Thompson’s wife, Zara Philips, joined him to sing vocal harmonies on the next few songs. “Hokey Pokey” was the title track of one of the albums he released with Linda. “Singapore Sadie” and “The Old Pack Mule” both appear on his new album, and the former is now streaming.  “Word Unspoken Sight Unseen” is about the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl. The set rounded out with “The Day I That Give In” and “Wall Of Death.”

For his encore, Richard came back alone and played “The Sunset Song.” Zara rejoined to finish the evening with “Withered and Died” and “I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight.”

This was an incredible show, a night of beautiful music. Thompson recently turned 75, and he shows no signs of slowing down: his fingers are as dexterous as they’ve always been, and the energy in his vocal delivery is palpable. Add to that this show was set in one of the most beautiful, atmospheric listening rooms I’ve been in — you can smell the pine — and this was a fantastic experience.

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