Richard Thompson review – the guitar virtuoso showcases six decades of music

City Recital Hall, Sydney
The British folk-rock musician has a reputation as one of the best guitarists of all time, but in Sydney he proved his skills as a songwriter shine equally bright

The Sydney City recital Hall is a fitting venue to watch Richard Thompson, a man for whom the term virtuoso could have been invented. Playing solo for the first half an hour and then a longer set with his Electric Trio, he plucks his classic songs from six decades of music making.

The brilliance of acoustic tracks such as I Misunderstood and 1952 Vincent Black Lightning remain undimmed and when he throws Sandy Denny’s Who Knows Where The Time Goes? into the mix, you feel the enthusiastic audience would already go home happy. The sublime Beeswing, a song inspired by Denny and Thompson’s 60s folk contemporary Anne Briggs, brings the acoustic set to a close.

Although the average age of those in the crowd might suggest otherwise, it’s not all about oldies and he kicks off the second half with All Buttoned Up, a song from his forthcoming album, then follows up with Sally B and Broken Doll. By this point his band, comprising drummer Michael Jerome and bassist Taras Prodaniuk, are well into their stride and afforded plenty opportunity to show off their talent.

But it is the third member of the trio, the master guitar player, that people have paid to see. An extended solo on Can’t Win is dazzling while another new song, Guitar Heroes, enables Thompson to mimic the style of idols such as Django Reinhardt and Les Paul in his own inimitably arch way.

This of course invites us to consider Thompson’s own influence on the rock canon, which is huge despite his limited commercial success. Perhaps it is his very English reference points and idioms, undiluted by years of living in the US. Or perhaps his reputation as “one of the best guitarists of all time” overshadows his greater talent as a songwriter. Aside from his acoustic gems, his best electric tracks have a pulsating energy mixing pure pop and rock. Wall Of Death, for example, gets close to bringing people out of their seats while I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight captures the raw expectations of a night on the town.

This was a different sort of night out, but no less satisfying.


Martin Farrer

The GuardianTramp

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