Richard Thompson – Bearsville Theater (Woodstock, NY)

Richard Thompson at the 2014 Clearwater Festival.
Richard Thompson at the 2014 Clearwater Festival.

To paraphrase JFK, I haven’t seen a gathering of musicians this brilliant since Richard Thompson played solo. One of the best guitarists in the world, Thompson can stand before a mic with the slightest of smiles and a five-degree head bow, and blow a room apart. Guitar prowess, a stunning command of songcraft and a rich voice make any Thompson performance extraordinary, but this evening at Bearsville set a new high. Thompson had performed at the nearby Clearwater Festival the week before, and in the interim had spent a couple of days at a guitar camp in the Hudson Valley with his wife and son Jack. By the time he hit the Bearsville stage, Thompson was primed, rested and relaxed; Bearsville has a superior sound system, so the stars aligned perfectly. The only hitch in the evening occurred when the long line to get in delayed the show’s start—that’s a hitch we can live with, especially since we heard nearly 30 songs that evening. Thompson’s gift for humor, sincerity, sex and longing comes together with unexpected results: “Saving The Good Stuff For You,” an apologia for past bad behavior and promise of a fulfilling life in the future, perfectly balances those four elements. “Fergus Lang” (which could be about The Donald) pairs lines like “Fergus Lang builds and builds, yet small is his erection/Fergus Lang has a fine head of hair when the wind’s in the right direction” and “[wives], all the perfect shape and size, they wag their tails and bat their eyes…just like Lassie.” Someone in the audience called out “Stairway to Heaven” and, with a sly smile, Thompson began to play it. Crowd favorites “Valerie,” “Wall of Death” and Americana Song of the Year nominee “Good Things Happen To Bad People”—which Thompson joked had not won, possibly because the Americana Music Association found out he isn’t American—all had the crowd going, as did his encore, including a duet of “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” with Happy Traum, among others. It was “1952 Vincent Black Lightening” which brought a lump to my throat, though, the best rendition I’ve heard from Thompson to date, and his rich baritone and incomparable picking on “Dimming Of The Day,” another high point in an Everest of an evening. – Suzanne Cadgène

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