2/22/2010

Richard Thompson: Master of Music and Mirth

On February 17, 2010 my wife and I were in the audience at the Aladdin Theater in Portland, for a performance by Richard Thompson. The British singer, guitarist, and songwriter, who first gained renown as a member of Fairport Convention, played a number of new songs, along with a handful of older compositions. In between songs, Mr. Thompson displayed a gift for eccentric humor that provided a pleasing complement to his musical prowess.

After Richard Thompson departed from Fairport Convention in 1971, he released his first album, Henry the Human Fly, in 1972, to a lukewarm reception. (It is now held in higher esteem.) Several years later he began to perform and record with his first wife, Linda, releasing six albums with her (including I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight and Shoot Out the Lights, which are regraded as containing some of his strongest work) between 1974 and 1982. When his marriage to Linda ended, he went back to recording and performing under his own name, and has continued to release albums regularly, with Rumor and Sigh in 1991 and Mock Tudor in 1999 being counted among his best, and to tour extensively, ever since.

The first half of the show in Portland, during which Mr. Thompson quickly established himself as a master of both music and mirth, was taken up with the new songs, being recorded for his next album. The new songs formed a collection of varied styles that was most impressive, conveying a wide range of moods, from pensive to caustic to joyful. One song in particular, a mischievous ditty in which Mr. Thompson delightedly took the mickey out of a famous musician from Newcastle (who appeared to fit the description of Sting), was biting and funny. With purposeful backing from an able band that included a fiddler, several of the new songs had a touch of the sound that made Fairport Convention famous in the late 1960s.

During the second half of the show, Mr. Thompson thrilled the audience by running through some of his more familiar songs. Throughout his performance, his sharp abilities on the electric guitar were shown to full advantage. Although he is commonly assigned to the world of folk music, he showed that he can play rock'n'roll with the best of them. He performed with a degree of speed, skill, and imagination that proved him to be one of the finest musicians of our time.