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Rock & Roll Rewind: Richard Thompson

c d kaplan is a rock & roll lifer. He’s got stories. Lots of stories. Here’s another.

There was one thing that struck me immediately the first time I heard Richard Thompson live.

Which came in the 90s, well after Fairport Convention, well after his Richard and Linda Thompson days.

He was then performing solo most of the time, as I understand it.

What I noticed was how standing alone at the mic with an amplified acoustic
guitar, outside at a festival with people moving about, he totally commanded the situation and the attention of most.

Such is not an easy task.

Especially in the middle of the afternoon in front of 30,000 or so folks.

Of course, I was immediately smitten, because the first thing he said after
his opening number was, “Where else on earth would you rather be on this
Thursday afternoon than in New Orleans at JazzFest?”

He had me at “Where else on earth.”

That take charge presence can be attributed to a couple of things it
seems. His deep resonant voice. His invigorating, powerful guitar stylings,
where he’d ring out the bass, rhythm and solos simultaneously.

There was also his very charismatic, funny and pithy banter between
songs. All while manually changing the tuning on his guitar. No tech roadie
necessary.

Truth is, of the half dozen times I’ve heard Thompson live, the one time he
really didn’t resonate -- for me anyway -- was when he played the Bomhard
with a band. I much prefer him solo. (I mean that show here wasn't bad or
anything, just not my favorite.)

Then there’s the vast repertoire of his own songs. Clever. Astute.
Sometimes disturbing with their honesty.

Many are love songs, or as an old pal once observed, anti-love songs.

Then again he can take a visit to an amusement park, and turn it into
something more philosophical as in “Wall of Death.”

How he’ll use old British folk song forms and modernize them. To grea
effect. As with his most famous tune, covered many times over, “1952
Vincent Black Lightning.”

Or his tunes with an undercurrent of anger, yet are charming nonetheless
because the listener doesn’t know if the narrator is serious or pulling your
leg? Like the fellow just out of prison in “I Feel So Good.”

And I feel so good/ And I feel so good/ Well I feel so good I'm going to
break somebody's heart tonight

Thompson's tunes are often dark, discomforting, yet still resonant. As the
insecure point of view of a lover in "Cold Kisses."

Here I am in your room going through your stuff/ Said you'd be gone five
minutes/ That's time enough

In the next. verse: Old photographs of the life you led/ Arm in arm with Mr.
X, Y, and Zed/ Old boyfriends big and small/ Got to see how much I
measure up to them all

The fellow could write about being jilted, like this that most of us have felt
at one or another.

But I misunderstood/ But I misunderstood? But I misunderstood/ I
thought she was saying good luck, she was saying goodbye

Richard Thompson, one of my faves, whom I'll never pass up a chance to
hear live. As his one time collaborator Nanci Griffith said of him, "He's his
own genre of music."

Observer of the Passing Scene: Pop Culture and Sports. Writer. Film Critic. Curmudgeon. Rock & Roll and Louisville Cardinal fan.