Photos by Ebet Roberts
On sale at the merch table at the City Winery Thompson Family Band shows was a printed and signed family tree—apropos for a show that featured eight members of that extended family, most singing and playing multiple instruments.
Patriarch Richard Thompson—either father, grandfather, or in-law of everyone on stage—was a prominent pioneer of folk rock in the ’70s, and, with the “great matriarch” (as he called her), his ex-wife Linda Thompson, part of a duo who played some of the most memorable music of that era and genre.
The recently released Thompson Family Band record, Family, was the brainchild of Richard and Linda’s son, Teddy, well-known as a singer/songwriter in his own right. He corralled to the project his parents, sister Kami, half-brother Jack, nephew Zak Hobbs and members of the family into which Kami married: husband James Walbourne, his brother Rob Walbourne on drums and the latter’s wife Brooke on backing vocals.
Teddy opened the show, setting the tone with the record’s gorgeous title track, replete with his trademark self-deprecating candor: “And I am the middle child, the boy with red hair and no smile, not too secure, very unsure who to be.”
Most of the songs from Family made it to the show, the exceptions being Linda’s solos. She was absent on this night, though, according to Richard, “present in spirit,” with some of her vocal parts ably handled by doppelgänger daughter Kami.
Guitar virtuosity abounded, with Richard’s storied licks almost matched by the playing of Hobbs and James Walbourne (who, with wife Kami, makes up the band the Rails; the duo performed several songs from their record “Fair Warning”).
Together, Richard and his youngest son played the mesmerizing ballad “At the Feet of the Emperor,” with Jack demonstrating his considerable prowess on bass. Richard then paid tribute to his past recordings with Linda with “I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight,” perhaps their best-known song, and the show’s rousing closer, “Wall of Death.”
The songs were pointed, introspective, engaging; the vocals and musicianship exquisite; the banter, as always with the Thompsons, wry and acerbic. Teddy: “We don’t fight; we just fume. It’s where we’re from.” For the audience, though, the mutual admiration and support of each family member’s superb musicianship on the stage was palpable.
– Ali Duffey