Richard Thompson / Greg Trooper – Belcourt Theatre (Nashville, TN)
For anybody who may have seen more than a few too many acoustic shows in which the singer strums a dozen structurally limp and rhythmically identical songs on predictable themes, stares at the floor, ignores the audience, then leaves, an evening with Richard Thompson is like a dose of remedial entertainment.
His solo live gigs in singing guitar player mode have been lively and memorable events for decades. His performances are varied, unpredictable, and loaded with snappy patter — wit that still seems to surprise newcomers who figured this guy would be all “doom and gloom from the tomb,” as his music was dubbed years ago.
Throughout this evening, ably abetted by adventurous bass player Danny Thompson (no relation), Richard demonstrated mind-boggling guitar variations — intricate, driving, veering around corners. This is one performer whom audiences press to play more guitar solos.
Expanding the time for instrumental breaks — to the consistent applause of this guitar town audience — may have cut back on the between-song monologues somewhat, but then, two of the new songs Thompson played, “I’ve Got The Hots For The Smarts” and “Alexander Graham Bell”, left room for verse after verse of witty wordplay, rhyme and commentary. Those two odes (to smart women and the inventor; you can tell which was which), along with the new “Let It Blow” from his upcoming Front Parlour Ballads acoustic album, all seem to mark a call toward some sophisticated pop in a tuneful, near Broadway/West End mode; Thompson’s agile versifying on these has a lot more to do with Cole Porter cabaret than Brit folk-rock or Celt-rock. (He also offered a witty song about the wanderings and escapades of Celt-rockers, “Johnny’s On The Rolling Sea”.)
Thompson only dipped into the Richard-and-Linda era catalogue modestly (“Withered And Died”, “Dimming Of The Day”, “Hokey Pokey”) focusing more on work form “way back in the ’90s,” as he put it — “Mingus Eyes”, “Bathsheba’s Smile” and “I Crawl Back Under My Stone” (that last the sort of song that had his audience singing along).
If Richard’s vocal efforts were sometimes questioned when he first took up his own lead singing in the 1980s, he was smooth, expressive, and on the dramatic, emotional tale-telling likes of “No Rest For The Ones God Blessed” and “1952 Vincent Black Lightning”, simply moving.
This was an evening of variety and vocal prowess, actually, with Greg Trooper as the opener. Trooper’s lyrics are often as doleful as Thompson’s can be, but he fairly consistently performs even the painful tales with visible glee. He left room on this night for between-song and tuning banter of his own: “Richard Thompson is one of the great singer-songwriters,” Trooper told the crowd, “because he can talk and tune at the same time.”
Trooper may have been glad to be back home in Nashville, as he mentioned, but his music has taken a decided turn toward Memphis lately; new numbers such as “This I Do” came off soulful, hook-filled, and winning. He’s paying as much attention to rhythm and the sound of words as to the storytelling now, resulting in a jaunty set that rolled right along. He let his “flexible for a scruff rocker” Jersey voice let loose and wail alone with his acoustic just as much as if there were a rock band there — and it rocked.