"Not another singer-songwriter," moaned Richard Thompson when he finally reached the stage at the Wax Museum at midnight Sunday. Thompson had every right to feel a bit self-conscious. He was following two other wordsmiths, Chris Smither and Danny O'Keefe, in an evening of acoustic music that lasted nearly five hours. That it seemed only half as long was a tribute to all three musicians.
Smither displayed his exceptional finger-picking dexterity on guitar and a wonderful repertoire that embraced both his own intimate songs and some slyly arranged R&B tunes. O'Keefe was a minor revelation. Stripped of elaborate arrangements, his songs were more personal, more expressive and beautifully sung. He embroidered each with nimble guitar work, and his talent for sardonic storytelling shone through on songs both old ("Quits") and new ("Sidewalk Symphony").
Like Smither, Thompson, who once guided the British folk-rock band Fairport Convention, devised complex, demanding guitar pieces; his transcription of Duke Ellington's "Rockin' in Rhythm," for example, was an instrumental tour de force. But Thompson's strong baritone and easy manner made virtually everything he sang equally enjoyable, especially some of the livelier numbers, such as "You're Gonna Need Somebody," "The Border" and the ominous blues "Backstreet Slide." When the late-hour zanies set in, Thompson even offered a bit of "My Way." Who says singer-songwriter types don't have a sense of humor?