Richard Thompson at Park West

Richard Thompson’s one of those musicians who really shouldn’t be missed. See him at any opportunity you have. I’ve managed to see him only a puny four times before the show Wednesday (June 13) at Park West. The previous times were an acoustic set at the Guinness Fleadh at Arlington Park, an acoustic show at the Old Town School of Folk Music’s Folk and Roots Festival (when the lineup for the day also included the Mekons and Patti Smith!), another acoustic show in Cologne/Köln, Germany (where I just happened to be on vacation at the time, and where I ended up marveling at the insistent and enthusiastic applause by the German crowd at the end of the show – those people just would not leave, even for a few minutes after the house lights came on), and a full-band concert a few years ago at Chicago’s House of Blues.

As much as I like Thompson’s studio recordings, few of them fully capture the amazing qualities of his live performances. This guy is one of those rare musicians that excels on several levels: excellent guitar playing, of course, which ranks him right near the top of any list of best guitar players; sophisticated songwriting; decent singing (I like his voice a lot, though I could see why it doesn’t bowl over everyone); and a teriffic sense of humor and an engaging personality.

All of these traits were on full display at Wednesday’s show. The only down side was that the Park West, which normally has quite good acoustics, sounded pretty murky and bass-heavy for Thompson’s performance. The murkiness went in and out; maybe 50 percent of the show sounded OK. The other half sounded like crap, even when the instrumentation was as simple as one voice, one guitar and a bass. How can you screw that up? Anyway, it was still possible to make out most of the nuances of Thompson’s fluid guitar solos through the murk, but it would have been so much more enjoyable with the pristine sound that it deserved.

The songs from Thompson’s new record sounded good, but I was really there to hear classics like “Wall of Death,” “Al Bowlly’s In Heaven” and “1952 Vincent Black Lightning.” He obliged with those songs, plus several other deep cuts. His rapid plucking on “Vincent” is just as much of a marvel as it ever was, and his electric soloing on “Hard on Me” was scorching. Great backup band, too.

Most of the crowd was from the Boomer demographic, making this one of the rare shows when I actually feel like one of the younger people in attendance. Looking out at the people standing on the dance floor at the front of the Park West, Thompson cracked, “I love to see middle-aged people standing up to hear acoustic music.”

I hadn’t made any arrangements beforehand to get press tickets or a photo pass, and unfortunately, the Park West security enforced a no-photos policy, so I had to take my camera back to my car before the concert. Hence, no photos here on the Underground Bee from the Richard Thompson concert. Oh, well.

Here’s the set list:

Needle & Thread
Bad Monkey
Take Care the Road You Choose
Dad’s Gonna Kill Me
I Still Dream
Wrong Heartbeat
Al Bowlly’s In Heaven
1952 Vincent Black Lightning
The Sun Never Shines on the Poor
I’ll Never Give It Up
One Door Opens
Hard On Me
Mingulay Boat Song
Man In Need
Hard Luck Stories
Too Late to Go Fishing
Wall of Death
Read About Love
Sunset Song
Mr Stupid
Gypsy Love Songs
Tear Stained Letter

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