Concert review: Richard Thompson at 9:30 Club

(Kyle Gustafson For The Washington Post)
By Dave McKenna
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 21, 2010

Richard Thompson plays a Fender Stratocaster. That's the most common guitar make and model in rock history. But Thompson gets tones out of his Strat that nobody else ever has. At the 9:30 Club on Tuesday, Thompson showcased his array of bent chords and tremoloed bass notes and whatever else goes into his stupid human trick musicianship.

Thompson is touring behind "Dream Attic," a batch of new and depressing songs recorded live at a Seattle club. And in the first of two sets, Thompson and the same quartet that backed him on the CD played the whole macabre record, from "Sidney Wells," which tells of the prison murder of a murderer, to "Crime Scene," which goes all "CSI" while describing the ghoulish setting of a violent killing, to "A Brother Slips Away," a Southern gospel-ish ballad about the nonviolent (whew!) death of friends. "Stumble On," the prettiest song of the fresh batch, dealt with moving on after a crushing romantic breakup. (But at least the emphasis was on survival!)

"All the happy songs are in the second set," Thompson said during the opening gorefest. While soloing throughout the new and, to the fans, unfamiliar material, Thompson delivered the array of guitar noises that his crowd expects, meaning a blizzard of notes that in combination fall sonically somewhere between a church organ and a whale's mating call. The only consistency in his picking was that it's never less than utterly fascinating, and thoroughly Richard Thompsonesque.

He came back for a second set of oldies that thrilled the oldies in the audience. Highlights included a cover of Emitt Rhodes's "Time Will Show the Wiser," a pop song that Thompson recorded with Fairport Convention in the 1960s, and "Wall of Death" and "I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight" from his peerless period in the '70s and '80s with ex-wife Linda Thompson.

As fans left the club, they were offered a chance to buy Thompson's songbook, complete with guitar tablature to help them sound just like their hero. Ain't gonna happen.

McKenna is a freelance writer.

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