Review from Tenafly, NJ
11/3/2006 (updated 11/3/2006)
With gratitude to Joanne Dexter
Better and Better, and Better Still
There's something about northern New Jersey and Richard Thompson -- but I
can't decide whether that something is really, really good, or uncannily
bad. Five or so years ago, at a show at the John Harms in Englewood, I saw
RT at a show that, musically speaking, was the highwater mark for me for
RT shows. However, RT and Simon themselves probably only recall that show
as 'that time that audience member shouted abuse and stormed out' [after
RT played his borrowed and updated anti-Iraq War song]. But what I recall
was that, song after song, RT surpassed even my elevated expectations of
what he could do with a guitar.
Similarly, though RT and Simon will no doubt long remember last night's
show in Tenafly [RT drily quipped to the audience: "Is it POSSIBLE I've
never played Tenafly before?"], it will only be as the night that no
equipment could be made to work until the very last minute, because no one
could be found at the venue who knew anything about running it [or even
unlocking it, apparently]. But what I will recall was that once more, as
at John Harms, RT was able to surprise me on each song, even the ones I'd
heard at nearly every one of the scores of RT shows I've seen, such as
"Crawl Back" and "Persuasion", with his nimble improvisations and nuanced
I was particularly interested to hear this show, coming so near the end of
a long season of touring, because I had been there in Delaware on a very
rainy night way back in June for one of the first shows of this tour. Thus
I was looking forward to hearing what those new songs off the upcoming
album are sounding like, now that they've not just lost their rough edges
but had a chance to be burnished and brightened. I was not at all
Before I go on, here's the setlist, which ranged between very old and very
new and touched many favorites in between. Interestingly, there was not a
single song from the most recent cd, "Front Parlour Ballads", an omission
which led me to reflect: How many musicians out there could afford NOT to
play at least a few songs off their most recent cd, especially one that
did so well in sales for them as FPB did for RT?
"Poppy Red" [a brand new one to me}
"Shoot Out the Lights"
"She Sang Angels to Rest"
"Dad's Gonna Kill Me"
"Hots for the Smarts"
"Bright Lights Tonight" [which segued into]
"Walking the Long Miles Home"
"How Will I Ever Be Simple Again?"
"52 Vincent Black Lightning"
"Meet on the Ledge"
"I Feel So Good"
1st encore: "Beat the Retreat"
"One Door Opens"
2nd encore: "Wall of Death"
The show opener, "Poppy Red," about a deceased love who is now pushing up
the poppies [daisies would be too innocent for this love, apparently], was
lovely but not for me as heartbreaking as RT's other new 'lost love' [or
losing love] songs, "She Sang Angels to Rest" and "Sunset Song", both of
which rank among his very best both for their lyrics and their hauntingly
beautiful melody lines. Have other people noticed how quickly an RT song
will stick in your head, so that, weeks and even months later, you wake up
to the echoes of its melody line even after a single hearing? I was
surprised I was able to recognize both "Angels" and "Sunset Song" from
their very first notes, even though I'd only ever heard them once before
[and at the Delaware show, "Angels" was so new that RT sang only a verse
and half a chorus before abruptly bailing out of the number because he was
still fiddling with what key it needed to be in.] Again, I can't think of
another musician who could afford to open and close his show on brand new,
unrecorded numbers and not expect to hear complaints from his audience.
But last night RT's new numbers went over just as well as his old
stand-bys. And for good reason: the driving ferocity of "Dad's Gonna Kill
Me", about a soldier's perspective on the Iraq war [Dad=Baghdad], is
different entirely from any other songs in RT's catalog. How can RT as a
songwriter continue to write songs that discover new types of energy? How
can he be around for as long as he's been and not have settled into a
predictable pattern and 'sound'?