To read Gazette music writer Michael Hochanadel's preview of this show, click here
“Compassionate conservatism” was demonstrably a fraud, but when Richard Thompson brought “my old chum Loudon” Wainwright to The Egg on Sunday, it was a tag-team triumph of tender sarcasm; a singer-songwriter show sizzling with political-social-cultural grievances but heaped high with hard-won hopefulness.
Wainwright sang first, delivering deadly, dazzling downers lamenting “the new depression” (but noting he hopes to cash in on it) and mourning fractured families (born into one, he failed at two). But he also cheered things up, acknowledging he’d been negative most of the night, and his career; celebrating depravity in “Heaven” early on and waving off despair to close with “Middle of the Night.”
If his sarcasm has long precluded stardom for Wainwright, he made the most of it with “Fear Itself” and “Cash for Clunkers” in the “new depression vein” and “Durango,” about a smashed guitar in that town’s airport, while he gnashed his teeth at the passage of time and its toll in “Motel Blues” and “The Picture” — there’s no such thing as simple nostalgia with him.
There’s also no such thing as a simply despairing show: his duet with Thompson in Dylan’s “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” was stunning and sweet. Wainwright also celebrated banjoist Charlie Poole, subject of his own recent “High Wide and Handsome” album, with real sincerity, uncorking one of Poole’s songs, “Didn’t He Ramble” and the title track: a tribute to the ramblin’ life that Wainwright wrote for Poole.
Thompson took over in high-vehemence mode with the bitter-lover’s laments “I Misunderstood” and “Shades and Disguises” and the political broadside “Time’s Gonna Break You” to start and the ferocious anti-war “Dad’s Gonna Kill Me” — “Dad” being short for Baghdad.
Recent songs about betrayal and the deaths of friends followed, and neither packed the punch of his ’73 near-hit “I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight,” although the also-new “The Sunset Song” sure did, carrying the audience straight to the full-throttle rush of “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” and the gentler but similarly wide open emotionally “Persuasion” and the desperate “I Crawl Back.”
After “Dad,” Thompson brought Wainwright back for encores “Down Where the Drunkards Roll,” “Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down” (from Poole’s songbook) and Leiber and Stoller’s “Smokey Joe’s Café” — a generous, sharing gesture because this was really Thompson’s show, no matter how strong Wainwright was.
Wainwright’s “The Picture” plumbed the depths of family despair, the singer seated at the piano as if weighted down by the song. Wainwright also played guitar well enough and banjo in the frailing style he learned from first wife Kate McGarrigle. However, Thompson hit deep despair equal to the worst pain that Wainwright reached, and in his first song: “I Misunderstood.” Thompson makes the sound that guitar makers dream of, of resonant bells crafted of wood and steel and feeling. Fans recognized all but his newest tunes during the intros, and all he had to do to summon sing-alongs was to step away from the mike — or demand “SING!”