“That was nothing!” said Richard Thompson after he’d stunned an Egg-ful of fans on Saturday with “Valerie,” an insistently rocking, pungent put-down but with a deliciously pretty guitar tone. Later, after a slow, quietly dazzling solo in the wistful “Down Where the Drunkards Roll,” he assured, “It’s all easy stuff.”
At least, he made it look easy, as he served up much more in the pained-swain vein of “Valerie” — boldly bitter beat-up love songs so acidic that when he turned tender late in the show for “Beeswing” it felt like an oasis in the Sahara. Not that there’s anything wrong with the arid despair and disappointment of Thompson’s portrayal of love as a battlefield and burial ground. But when things turned sweet, the contrast was astounding.
Thompson sprinkled new songs among (sold-out!) crowd faves and dealt some wild cards. The new “Saving the Good Stuff For You” confessed past transgressions and promised better, while “Good Things Happen to Bad People,” “My Enemy” and “Snow Goose” poured pure bile on offending lovers. Frank Loesser’s 1940s jive compression of Hamlet was witty and wild. Classics delivered huge lifts: “Vincent Black Lightning 1952,” an Elizabethan ballad where fate rode motorcycles and fired a shotgun; “Wall of Death” also starred a bike; and “I Crawl Back” was old-school in its wounded-love lament, but Thompson had rather too much fun with new-school vocal loops.
His guitar playing — not “nothing” and not “easy stuff” — packed the usual unusual punch, based solely in British and Celtic folk and rocking but with no reference to the blues at all. His hybrid picking style — downward with thumb or finger pick, upward with fingers — formed two or three lines at once. Sometimes overlooked on record where ears seek guitar solos, his voice packs hard-earned authority onstage Saturday, seeming all edges where Teddy’s was smooth.
Putting son Teddy Thompson on the show as opener wasn’t nepotism at all. Teddy charmed his way past early rough spots when he forgot the words. Good: they were fine words — pop-song couplets, wry country-isms and, except for the happy-love-has-to-end lament “Delilah”, little of his father’s wounded fatalism.
Teddy was both more and less than his dad, without the scars, a complete artist on his own terms. He sounded British when he spoke, American when he sang, and his songs had a self-deprecating grace that ingratiated easily, whether he was seeking “A Girl Who Knows How to Love Me,” confessing distress and decay in “Things I Do” or aspiring to mere adequacy in “Learn to Walk the Line.”
A skilled guitarist, he gave the songs all the accompaniment they really needed; but you could also imagine them tarted up in Nashville country-politan finery. It’s harder to imagine anyone singing them better, though.
Teddy joined his father onstage for encores of “Persuasion,” “The Price of Love” and an a cappella duet of devastating poignance.
Reach Michael Hochanadel at [email protected]