MAHAIWE PERFORMING ARTS CENTER
October 14, 2011
Review by Seth Rogovoy
(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass.) – Simply put, Richard Thompson proved once again on Friday night at the Mahaiwe that he is a master – a virtuoso guitarist, an engaging performer, an acute songwriter, and an affecting singer. He puts all the elements together in his solo acoustic concerts, like the one he did at the Mahaiwe, in such a manner that they stand as models of the very form – indeed, a form that he played no small part in inventing.
It’s why Thompson, who has been around since the 1960s when he was a member of the groundbreaking English folk-rock group Fairport Convention, to which he paid tribute in song on Friday night, is widely and often considered a musician’s musician – the whole new-folk crew of singer-songwriters hold him in their highest esteem for his writing, playing, and performance skills. Many of them did their apprenticeships opening shows for him in the 1980s and 1990s, and many of them have paid tribute to him by recording his songs.
In his concert Friday night, Thompson dug deep into his catalog as well as touching on a few audience favorites from his duet days with his former wife, Linda Thompson, and from such late-career hit albums as Mock Tudor and Rumor and Sigh.
Thompson also played a mini-set from his One Thousand Years of Popular Music program, including an Italian Renaissance song that featured stunningly virtuosic classical-style guitar picking and a vintage English labor protest song. What was perhaps most striking about these numbers, as well as one he played by the Who’s Pete Townshend, was how they all bleanded seamlessly with Thompson’s own aesthetic, which while never really sounding like folk music, is part and parcel of the tradition.
Thompson’s songs can tend to be barbed, pointed, dark looks at romance and betrayal – women in particular are often betrayed as disloyal and untrustworthy, to the point that Thompson comes perilously close to seeming misogynistic in his portrayal of the battle of the sexes. He redeems himself, perhaps, with his sense of humor and with his portrayals of equally or greater loutish men, who are often only one step shy of psychopaths.
In any event, Thompson held the audience in his hand throughout the evening, and demonstrated why an evening with Richard Thompson is one of the surest tickets money can buy.