Club Helsinki Hudson
Thursday, April 23, 2015
Review and photos by Seth Rogovoy
(HUDSON, N.Y.) – About halfway through Richard Thompson’s masterful solo concert at Club Helsinki Hudson on Thursday night, he played an original song that I hadn’t heard before (it might be one of a selection of new ones he played), and I wrote in my notebook, “shares a cynicism with Pete Townshend.”
A few minutes later, as if he read my mind, he concluded his final encore with the Who’s “Substitute.” So much for my original observation.
But the comparison with the Who goes deeper with just an affinity for Pete Townshend’s somewhat bitter world view. In spite of being a solo acoustic guitar-playing singer-songwriter, Richard Thompson has figured out how to have the maximum impact of a power trio. He has perfected the art of using the guitar as a full band – at least as a power trio, playing rhythm, bass, and fills all at once, with his versatile, commanding vocals as the lead instrument.
Thompson may well have given birth to the form, having been on the job now for well over four decades. When you see similar artists who have mastered the form, especially those who, like Thompson, are almost as brilliantly witty with their between-song banter as they are incisive in their songs, chances are they’ve gone to the University of Richard Thompson. Shawn Colvin comes to mind, for one, and Colvin spent a number of years touring as Thompson’s opening act, on the way to becoming his peer as a performing singer-songwriter.
While Thompson can make large theater and auditorium shows seem like coffeehouse gigs, the real-life intimacy of his concert at Helsinki Hudson, with just a couple hundred listeners grabbing every seat and standing space available, made this gig all the more unique. Thompson’s give-and-take with the audience was genuine, and several times he clearly strayed from his set list to accommodate a fan’s request, or even engage in a bit of back and forth. And one needs to be careful, because Thompson always gets the best of his interlocutors.
His was a generous performance, hitting marks ranging from songs he performed with seminal English folk-rock group Fairport Convention through duo material from the Richard and Linda Thompson era of the mid-1970s (“I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight”) through the best of his solo work, with the obligatory “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” and a few other songs from his 1991 career-reviving album, “Rumour and Sigh.”
That version of “Substitute,” however, is the song that will stick in my mind for a long, long time, as Thompson pulled off the seemingly impossible feat of one man with a guitar evoking all four members of the Who – even implying Keith Moon’s drum solo as well as John Enwistle’s eloquent lead bass lines. He’s a different singer from Roger Daltrey but just as affecting, and much more fluent and versatile guitarist than Pete Townshend.
He’s simply a one-man rock band.