This was the first time I’d seen Richard Thompson in front of a band and wielding an electric guitar instead of an amplified acoustic. It was a full house of aging boomers. I’d put the average age of the attendees at plus fifty, but everybody got what they’d come for. Thompson rocked as only he can. The band was superb, in an unusual combination of Thompson’s guitar, bass and drums plus an electric violin and a sax player who doubled on rhythm guitar and mandolin, a Richard Thompson variation on the Dave Matthews Band. But that’s where similarities ended. While Matthews veers off into faux jazz, Thompson’s band is rooted in rocking Brit folk.
What I had gone for, and it seems most of the audienece came for as well, was to hear him cut loose on an electric. Thompson was identified as a guitar God early on, but got lost amid the Blues-rooted Eric Claptons and Jeff Becks because of his folk rock sound. But he’s a rocker par excellence and his pyrotechinics sure as hell transcend his mastery of technique. He was amazing, awesome, one of the best performances I’ve ever seen. That’s in the context of recently having seen The Feelies, Phish and Tom Petty. Thompson is a singularity. there is no one even remotely like him in the canon of pop music. I noted that what we were experiencing was really akin to hearing Paganini live in the 1830s. And I don’t feel the comparison a stretch.