Review of Royce Hall, UCLA 9-28-07|
10/1/2007 (updated 10/1/2007)
I had the unparalleled pleasure of seeing Richard Thompson and band last night at UCLA's Royce Hall. I'm writing to encourage (exhort!) you to see RT when he comes your way in the next couple months. Tour dates here.
Thompson is one of the most distinctive guitarists in rock/folk music history. He is capable of the most fiery, stinging electric guitar playing you can imagine, as well as the most sublime acoustic (folk and sort of jazzy) work. His songs range from straight rock to Celtic-influenced folk, with some jazz, blues, boogie, and reggae thrown in for good measure. As a guitarist and performer he is, in a word, phenomenal.
Last night was the fourth time I've seen RT since 1985, and it was the best performance of the bunch. At age 58, he has not lost a step, vocally or instrumentally. And he is wickedly clever and witty, utterly charming. The two-hour show was completely captivating from start to finish. The first time I looked at my watch he had been playing for 75 minutes. I couldn't believe it; it felt like 30 minutes. My wife, who is a casual fan (and has seen him with me two other times), thought it was a brilliant show. She was totally knocked out. Thompson is completely accessible on first listening, so the unitiated should not hesitate to see him.
It would help to be familar with his excellent new CD, "Sweet Warrior", which I think is his best in at least 15 years. He played eight of its 14 songs last night, along with 13 others. As he put it after the first two songs, "We're going to play a couple more new songs. Then we'll get to the hits and classics. Did I say "hits?" Hit...hit-let...mini-hitlet. " The CD is available for $12.99 at amazon, which also offers a video of RT doing an acoustic version of his anti-war song, "Dad's Gonna Kill Me" (as in Baghdad). At the very least, you should check that out.
His 3-piece band was one of the best I've ever seen: muti-instrumentalist Pete Zorn, bassist Taras Prodaniuk, and drummer extraordinaire Michael Jerome (worth the price of admission alone). They absolutely smoked on the rockers and provided sublime accompaniment on the tender ballads and acoustic numbers. He brought out Judith Owen (who sings on the latest CD) to do a duet of "Cry Me a River" that was one of the most sublime, transcendent performances I have ever heard; she has an amazing, flawless voice. The audience was so spellbound, it seemed like the entire place held its breath for five minutes. Halfway through, I knew I was hearing perfection; RT's jazzy solo on his acoustic guitar was gorgeous. I mean it when I say every note of that performance was perfect; nothing could have improved it. Jaw-droppingly good.
The diverse selection of music, combined with Thompson's quick wit, made for a truly fulfilling evening of music. I wish it had lasted another hour.
So do yourself a favor and go see Richard Thompson; he'll be touring Europe and the UK in October and will be back in the U.S. in late November-December.
Setlist: Needle and Thread, Bad Monkey, Take Care the Road You Choose, Dad's Gonna Kill Me, I Still Dream, I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight, Al Bowlly's in Heaven (and I'm in Limbo Now) -- great solos taken by all, 1952 Vincent Black Lightning, Cry Me a River, One Door Opens, I'll Never Give It Up, Hard On Me (possibly the best rock playing I've ever heard from RT), Mingulay Boat Song (a "sea shanty" from an album called "Rogue's Gallery" featuring various artists performing "piratical" music, a rocker I did not recognize, Guns Are the Tongues, Bone Through Her Nose, Wall of Death, Read About Love, encore: Sunset Song, Mr. Stupid, second encore: Tear-Stained Letter.
Mr. Wolf is a former music-journalist (in the mid-80s) who now teaches high school English and journalism near Bakersfield, California.