Richard Thompson - Live

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Richard Thompson is a folk/rock guitarist, beginning in the early 1970's with a group named Fairport richardthompson Convention, followed a solo career that's been erratic in song quality, but always with great guitar work.

I saw him around 1986 in Atlanta at a bar no longer on the scene. With about 5 of us waiting for the doors to open, he stepped out of a cab, acoustic guitar case in hand and quickly stepped inside. Such is the treachery of fame for someone frequently mentioned as "Best Guitarists of (insert year)" by Rolling Stone. It was a great show, especially when seated at a table about 15' from the stage with an unobstructed view.

He came to town again last night, this time at the Variety Playhouse, a favorite venue of mine. We arrived at 8:20, just in time to see the opening act. As the stage included only a stool, a microphone, and a couple cups of water, we decided to find a resting spot at the rear balcony, then descend to a small open floor area in front of the stage between sets. The joy in watching this artist comes from watching his fingers.

Strangeness. First, the place was sold out for an artist relatively unheard and unpublicized. Second, the entire audience was seated. No one was standing in the floor area in front of the stage. I mean, there's always someone up there to check out the band's licks, right? Third, at 8:30 sharp, there's Richard, guitar in hand. And we're as far from the front as one can get.

Prelude: Driving to the Little Five Points area, my concert buddy and I were pretty well into a 1974 "bootleg" recording of Rory Gallagher, live in Kansas City. This is adrenaline music, featuring a roaring, emotional, fiery guitar from this forgotten master. We were pumped.

Having met two other friends, a brief detour to Criminal Records was required, and amongst the area's many varied restaurants, we found ourselves at the relatively mainstream Brewhouse Cafe. A tasty burger and Ommegang Abbey beer later, we were ready for the show.

RT can tear it up on electric guitar, and he's usually accompanied by a stand-up bass and drums, at minimum.

Not this time. A man and his guitar. It took several songs to process the absence of the rock show and come to terms with a solo acoustic presentation, even as many of the songs were familiar from recordings with a full band.

It was as peaceful a concert as I've ever attended. The crowd politely clapped, and occasionally stood to do so. RT, at almost 60 years of age (not much higher than the average age of those attending) has perfected his craft, in my opinion, unparalleled in his genre. I'm fairly confident that he did not miss a guitar note the entire evening, and if a note was not struck perfectly cleanly, I don't remember it.

Our perch at the rear center of the auditorium, while only 150 miles or so from our intended location, worked well for sound. Other than the occasional voices of those around us, we may as well have been wearing headphones. Crystal clear.

It's amazing that a man an fill a room so fully with sound, never mind the amplification of the guitar. On almost every song, he picks a bass line while also playing the melody or a solo. And while other singers his age may be faltering on higher notes, his songs have always been on the lower registers, and his voice remains as strong as ever.

The show clocked in at under 2 hours. Overall, it was an uneven evening in tone. The slower numbers tended towards the sad, and even the up tempo songs generally were tempered towards the British cynicism of his writing. However, his humor both within and between the songs brightened the evening. Befitting a what stylistically was a folk concert, it left us feeling appreciative. The evening was quite enjoyable, but it was not the punctuated sonics that come from a good ol' rock show, even Richard Thompson style.

Two songs included in this show were:

Lousy lighting, but the performance speaks for itself.

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