From his beginnings with British folk-rock/electric folk band Fairport Convention, to his classic collaborations with then-wife Linda Thompson, and throughout his long and distinguished solo career, singer-songwriter-guitarist Richard Thompson has been a case study that consistency and innovation are not mutually exclusive concepts.
Performing at City Winery Nashville with his powerhouse Electric Trio recently, Thompson demonstrated in no uncertain terms that — to borrow a phrase from one of his best-known songs — fate has not yet broken his stride.
Touring in support of his forthcoming, Jeff Tweedy-produced album, Still (due June 23, 2015), Thompson covered that album well, scattering six songs from it, throughout a set that managed to highlight several key moments from five decades of his distinguished career.
From the opening notes of “All Buttoned Up” from the new album, the powerhouse Electric Trio — featuring Thompson on guitar, Taras Prodaniuk on bass, and Michael Jerome on drums — served notice that this was going to be primarily a rock show.
After, a spirited version of “Sally B” from his 2013 album, Electric, and “Broken Doll” from Still, Thompson introduced the next song as being from the 1970s, “Before most of you were born” he joked, adding, “Keep in mind, I can’t really see you.” What followed was a blistering version of “For the Shame of Doing Wrong” from his 1975 album with Linda Thompson, Pour Down Like Silver. The extraordinary thing about the show which came into focus was the seamless way the trio moved from brand new songs to 40 year old material so effortlessly.
After “Hard on Me” from 1999’s Mock Tudor, Thompson introduced his special guest for the evening, Siobhan Maher Kennedy — a current Nashville resident who sang on some of his recent albums. She joined him for, “She Never Could Resist a Winding Road” from Still. Maher Kennedy and the band left the stage, and Thompson joked that they were having a union meeting backstage adding “It’s always about the money” and “I’ll muddle through on my own”.
Armed with just an acoustic guitar, Richard Thompson electrified the sold out, but slightly subdued crowd, with a stunning performance of what has become his best known song, “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” from his 1991 album, Rumor and Sigh.
Rejoined by the band, the cheeky, “Saving the Good Stuff for You” and another track from Still, “Beatnik Walking” which Thompson described as a walking tour of Amsterdam. The next song, Thompson, said was from the 1980s, and went on to blast Margaret Thatcher and the trend of treating returning soldiers badly which he indicated was a hallmark for her administration. “Al Bowlly’s in Heaven” is from his 1986 album, Daring Adventure.
He introduced the next song as a tribute to the guitar greats who inspired him. “Guitar Heroes” from the new album, describes the sacrifices Thompson made to learn like his heroes and features verses dedicated to Django Reinhardt, Les Paul, Chuck Berry, and British guitar great Hank Marvin of The Shadows. The song ends with Thompson modestly declaring that he still does not know how his heroes did what they did after demonstrating that he actually does have a pretty keen understanding.
The Trio then powered through the remaining four songs of the set, “Never Give It Up” from the 2007 album, Sweet Warrior was sandwiched between two songs from the classic Richard and Linda Thompson album, Shoot Out the Lights. “Did She Jump or Was She Pushed” and “Wall of Death” sounded incredible. The set ended with a moving cajun-sounding, “Tear Stained Letter’ which dates back to his second solo album, Hands of Kindness.
The band left the stage briefly and returned to play, “Dry My Tears and Move On” from Mock Tudor and “No Peace No End” from Still.
After another brief break, the band returned for “My Enemy” from Electric before closing the night with the night’s lone cover, a rousing rendition of Otis Blackwell’s first release, “Daddy Rolling Stone”.
The unbeatable combination of decades worth of great songs played by a powerhouse electric trio made for a memorable night of music.
Singer-songwriter Robert Ellis opened, winning over the crowd with this excellend songs and stellar guitar work. His short set closed with his intricate and beautiful song, “Sing Along” which he dedicated to his hero Ornette Coleman, who passed away earlier in the week.