Concert review by Eric Sandberg — The Richard Thompson Trio at the Teragram Ballroom February 20, 2019
Richard Thompson plays a Gibson SG on a rousing cover of The Sorrows' "Take A Heart"
I like Richard Thompson when he's angry...at least angry when he's writing songs and ripping guitar solos on a new record. Thompson's most recent album 13 Rivers was written and recorded amid the end of his second marriage and could well have been titled Shoot Out The Lights II.
Each of the albums thirteen songs is sung in the first person - the lyrics, personal, often harrowing, occasionally spiritual. The guitar playing throughout sports a ferocity not heard on a Richard Thompson record in a while.
If the Richard Thompson who appeared on the Teragram Ballroom stage Sunday night with his "very large trio" was angry, you wouldn't know it. But who can really tell? Thompson is a consummate showman who leaves his dark side in the dressing room. I wouldn't say he was warm but he was certainly jovial and partook in the kind of banter only Englishmen of a certain age can deliver, even cribbing a classic line from the Bonzo's Neil Innes "I've suffered for my art, now it's your turn."
When an audience member waved a copy of the 13 Rivers CD at him he quipped "So you're the one still buying CDs." When another patron expressed his enthusiasm for the announced next song Thompson chided "I'm so glad this meets with your approval. It is all about you after all."
Thompson began the lengthy set with "The Bones of Gilead" a polyrhythmic tour de force from 13 Rivers that harks back to his Capitol Records era. Thompson's long time guitar tech Bobby Eichorn sat in (literally) on this and many tunes throughout the evening providing strong rhythm support.
Left to right: Bobby Eichorn, Richard Thompson, Michael Jerome
Thompson front loaded his set with several of the strongest songs from 13 Rivers, promising he would get to the "classics" eventually ("about 2 AM") but, to my ears, these songs stand up with Thompson's venerable fifty year catalog nicely. In previous years Thompson served as his own opening act, performing a set of acoustic numbers before being joined by his band. His current approach is to integrate the acoustic numbers throughout the set which created a satisfying flow to the proceedings.
Thompson's bassist Taras Prodaniuk clearly came from the factory that makes long, lanky, lantern-jawed bass players, who know the proper way to stand, delivering every note needed but not one note more.
Drummer Michael Jerome is a marvel. His picture should be in the dictionary next to the word 'drummer.' Despite standing directly in front of a living legend I found it hard to take my eyes off Jerome. From the perfect flat set up of his kit, to the way he sat - his controlled ferocity - he has clearly been instructed by the best and paid attention. The rest is his gift. Jerome's drum riser seemed more like a trampoline as it appeared his drums could tumble off at any moment.
Thompson, Jerome and Prodaniuk raise the excitement level with a fiery extended jam on "Can't Wait."
One of the shows highlights came early with "Guitar Heroes" in which Thompson pays homage to and emulates the playing styles of Django Reinhart, Les Paul, Chuck Berry, James Burton and Hank Marvin, high praise from a guitarist who has an equally original and immediately recognizable style of his own.
As promised, Thompson packed the second half of his set with the classics, visiting his old band Fairport Convention with "Meet On The Ledge" and "Genesis Hall," "Wall of Death" from Shoot Out the Lights, a lovely acoustic performance of "1952 Vincent Black Lightning" and his standard set closer, the rousing "Tear Stained Letter." The first encore featured Richard on acoustic guitar singing "Beeswing" followed by the very welcome last second substitution of perhaps his most beautiful song "Dimming of the Day."
All photos by Eric Sandberg
The full band returned for one final encore performing another future classic from 13 Rivers ("Pride") before Thompson surprisingly donned a black Gibson SG for a rocking cover of "Take A Heart" originally by 60s British Beat band The Sorrows.
There were a few moments in the show where Thompson really seemed to be enjoying himself. He occasionally flashed a toothy, self-satisfied grin, too fleeting to capture on camera but reminded me of this:
Acoustic finger-stylist Ryley Walker opened the proceedings with an arresting mixture of de-tuned John Fahey and John Renbourn style drones on a beat up Guild that belied the shimmering sounds emanating from it. Walker managed to hold on to the sparse early crowd with his wit and talent despite making blasphemous comments about the merits (or lack thereof) of Syd Barrett's solo work
Ryley Walker, looking a bit like Ed Sheerhan, but exhibiting far more talent.
Note: this review was completed with invaluable suggestions from Michael Berman
Eric Sandberg: My true opinion on everything is that it's splunge.