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Monday, Nov. 8, 2010

Richard Thompson @ The Pabst Theater

Nov. 4, 2010

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If there were any justice in the world of rock ’n’ roll, Richard Thompson would be worshipped as a full-on guitar god. Yet such a title would inevitably disagree with the man himself, who, based upon the dour sense of humor he displayed in front of a packed Pabst Theater, would rather leave his audience moved by his wit. Thompson, wearing a beret that made him look a bit like a British Guardian Angel, charmed his way through a set that drew heavily from his recent album Dream Attic but still rewarded longtime fans with a host of selections from his impressive back catalog. Throughout the evening Thompson, whether relaying an anecdote revolving around Monty Python or maneuvering his fingertips effortlessly across his guitar’s fretboard, made it all look so damn easy.

If nothing else, Thompson’s inspiring performance made it all the more puzzling why Dream Attic hasn’t created more of a buzz here in the States. Songs like “The Money Shuffle,” “Among the Gorse, Among the Grey” and “Crimescene” all highlighted the fact that Thompson is still more than capable of writing solid, effective pop songs and ballads. Yet it was “Sidney Wells,” a murder ballad following the exploits of a serial killer, that encapsulated why Thompson is still a force to be reckoned with. As Thompson told the tale of Wells, who “drove the country North to South/ On the walkie-talkie, shooting off his mouth,” the song moved from a Celtic-inspired folk song to a noisy rocker that culminated in some serious face-melting guitar soloing. Yet Thompson’s guitar work (in “Sidney Wells” and throughout the entire evening) was never ostentatious; it always worked in tandem with the mood of the song.

Thompson’s rabid fan base ate up such new material. So when Thompson finally did get to some older material, including songs such as “Can’t Win” and “Wall of Death,” it seemed less like an aging rocker throwing his audience a few bones and more like an extension of a well-planned and -executed set. But there was a joy in hearing Thompson’s die-hard followers sing back the chorus to his classic “Tear Stained Letter.” There was little sadness present in the Pabst as those in the crowd screamed, “Cry, cry if it makes you feel better/ Set it all down in a tear-stained letter.” This was the sound of catharsis. This was the sound of life.

Photo by Erik Ljung
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