Folk rock's absentee heroine, Linda Thompson, stayed away from touring for nearly two decades, reportedly because of an anxiety disorder triggered by performing in front of crowds. She seemed fully cured at the Birchmere Monday night.
Thompson's much-anticipated appearance in support of her new disc, "Fashionably Late," was undone by technical problems that were at times so severe the audience would have had an excuse to give up live music. Her monitors caused her discomfort throughout the show, and when she wasn't fiddling with her earpieces, the house PA was emitting sounds that weren't coming from her. During a short a cappella break, her voice disappeared again and again behind the sort of noises made when a moth flies into a bug zapper. For those fans aware of Thompson's past disorders, the problems made the show not only difficult to listen to, but also to watch.
When the sound system wasn't the focal point, Thompson showed she can still sing in the beautifully fragile tones she flaunted back when she performed with her husband Richard Thompson, whom she divorced in the mid-1980s. As a performer, she played Garfunkel to her ex's Simon; he wrote all the songs and she sang most of them. Happiness and true love are myths in the Thompsons' oeuvre, which she visited during "I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight" and the exquisite "Dimming of the Day."
Much of the new material on the new record -- including "Weary Life," "Miss Murray," "The Banks of the Clyde" -- finds Thompson just as pessimistic about the chances of living a life filled with anything but loneliness. "Sometimes a song makes you want to kill yourself," she said with a guilty giggle before one such number. And sometimes you just want to kill the sound man.
-- Dave McKenna