For a long time now, Richard Thompson has been one of the best singer-songwriter-guitarists around, and if you’ve ever seen him live, you’ll know that he’s also an affable raconteur with a charming personality and a quick wit. It was a great pleasure to see Thompson again on Monday night (Sept. 12) at Evanston Space, an intimate venue. And I was fortunate to get a chance to speak with Thompson earlier by phone, for an interview that appeared in Pioneer Press.
As always, Thompson made his guitar sing, often sounding like an entire band — or two or three guitars, anyway. When Thompson plays solo acoustic shows, such as this one, he shows just how much music one player can make with that instrument. It almost seems like magic when Thompson continues playing chords, bass lines or counter-melodies as he solos on top. He had only one guitar with him on the stage all night. It was all he needed.
Thompson played songs from throughout his career, going back to his early days in Fairport Convention for a tribute to Sandy Denny with “Who Knows Where the Time Goes.” (“It was a band of no great consequence,” he said. “We just invented folk rock. Well, bits of it.”) He also played songs from his years recording with his then-wife Linda, including “Down Where the Drunkards Roll” and “I Want to See the Bright Lights.” And Thompson played what I believe are two new songs, one that included the lines “Northern girls will gut you” and “In the dream I’m running,” and another with the line, “Good things happen to bad people.”
The dark, quiet songs were especially haunting: “The Ghost of You Walks” and the sinister “Hope You Like the New Me.” And Thompson’s classic song “Pharaoh” seemed more topical than ever. Introducing it, he said, “This is my song of financial paranoia. Join me. Wallow in it for a while.”
He played a few of the songs requested by audience members, including “Why Must I Plead?” and “Tear Stained Letter,” although he noted that he needed some help on that one, since he was lacking a band. Glancing around the stage and shrugging, he remarked, “I told the band, ‘9 o’clock. Heathrow…’” One side of the room sang the vocal harmonies and the other side struggled to duplicate the song’s sax section. After hearing the audience’s first attempt at singing, Thompson instructed us further: “Harmony. That’s when notes join in a pleasing manner.”
Although Thompson has no shortage of his own songs, he played a few covers, including Chuck Berry’s “Little Queenie.” Afterward, Thompson said being in Chicago inspired him to play it. “I didn’t want to play that song, but I could feel the pull, Chess Studio pulling me.” Later, just as I was thinking about shouting out a request for Frank Loesser’s song “Hamlet (Dog Eat Dog in Denmark),” which I’d heard Thompson play in concert before, he did it. And near the end of the set, he obliged when another audience member called out for his version of Britney Spears’ “Oops! I Did It Again” — a cover that started out as part of Thompson’s 1000 Years of Popular Music project. Yes, it’s a bit of a joke, but it’s also further proof that Thompson can play just about anything.
The Ghost of You Walks
Northern Girls (new song?)
Johnny’s Far Away
1952 Vincent Black Lightning
Little Queenie (Chuck Berry cover)
Who Knows Where the Time Goes?
I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight
Hope You Like the New Me
Good Things Happen to Bad People (new song?)
Why Must I Plead
Hamlet (Dog Eat Dog in Darkness) (Frank Loesser song)
Down Where the Drunkards Roll
Tear Stained Letter
Oops! I Did It Again (Britney Spears cover)
One Door Opens
Dimming of the Day