Tuesday, June 17, 2014

With Terrific--and Free!--Show at Millennium Park, Richard Thompson Provides Rock-Solid Introduction to a Folk Hero -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

Richard Thompson
and His Electric Trio
with opening solo acoustic set
June 16, 2014
Pritzker Pavilion
Millennium Park, Chicago

There is a certain euphoria derived from great art--of any ilk--and more than anything else, this blog represents me prattling on about performances that give me pleasure, nourishment and even sustenance.

Although I now see more theatrical performances than concerts, and the latter includes jazz, blues, classical and more, nothing moves me--in a variety of connotations--more than a great rock show.

Though I have seen, and will continue to attend, a substantial number of concerts by artists I truly love, there is a certain chagrin over a relative lack of anyone new about whom I feel the same.

While many people reading this could likely tell me about a great live performer (or several) that I have never seen or don't even know of, I am aware of nearly zero rock acts that I look forward to seeing for a first time. (The Black Keys are one exception, but I've seen full streaming concerts online and have tickets to catch them in late September.)

If you include concert DVDs, live streaming shows or substantive viewing of YouTube clips, there are even fewer artists to whom I remain largely obvious for their rock 'n roll stagecraft.

So while Richard Thompson won't outrank Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young or Elvis Costello in terms of acute enjoyment--just among concerts I've seen so far this year--his may well be the most introductory informative show I see for quite awhile, given that I don't even think I've seen concert clips of him, let alone live on stage.

Not that Richard Thomspon is a new artist--he's 65 and has been putting out music since 1967 with British folk rock pioneers Fairport Convention--nor completely unfamiliar to me.

I've long owned and enjoyed Shoot Out The Lights (Spotify), his masterful 1982 collaboration with then-wife Linda in the end stages of their marriage.

Though much more belatedly, I have also done some Spotifying of Fairport Convention and additional Richard & Linda Thompson albums, and liked "Good Things Happen to Bad People" from his 2013 Electric album enough to include it on my best of the year compilation CD.

I was actually turned onto that song through a Best of 2013 list from WXRT morning DJ Lin Brehmer, who introduced Thompson at his free concert Monday night at Millennium Park.

Even before the music began the evening turned out rather fortuitous. In noting on Facebook that I was heading downtown for the show--rather than watching the U.S. v Ghana World Cup match, which I was sorry to miss--I learned that my friend Brad was also going (along with another mutual friend, Al), and though I could have gotten a seat in the pavilion any time I arrived, Brad had snagged some prime seats seven rows from the stage.

So on a beautiful night I heard 2 hours of free music near the front of Frank Gehry's stunning Pritzker Pavilion--even Thompson commented on its beauty--accompanied by two friends I hadn't expected to encounter.

And though the show was promoted as Richard Thompson and His Electric Trio, there was an opening act: Richard Thompson, onstage with just an acoustic guitar.

This was a real treat, as although I haven't been long indoctrinated to his six-string prowess, I've noted multiple sources citing him as one of the best guitarists ever, on both acoustic and electric guitars.

Also, while I have loved completely solo performances from Young, Costello and Bob Mould earlier this year, I still prefer each in full band mode. So in seeing Thompson for the first time, it was a real treat to get him in both incarnations on the same night.

Opening on his own with "I Misunderstood" from 1991's Rumor and Sigh, he next delivered a favorite from my sphere of familiarity, "Walking on a Wire," off Shoot Out the Lights.

As he shared anecdotes in introducing songs such as Fairport Convention's "Genesis Hall" and a tune about a ceilidh (pronounced kay-lee, seemingly Celtic in origin) band on a cruise ship ("Johnny's Far Away"), it was readily apparent that not only is Richard Thompson a legendary musician who deserved to see considerably fewer empty seats than existed in the pavilion--especially at no cost--he is a terrific singer, songwriter, guitarist and raconteur seemingly still at the height of his powers. (Here's a link to some video I took of his acoustic guitar prowess; sorry that the sound isn't better.)

After the end of the acoustic set, which ended delightfully with "1952 Vincent Black Lightning" from Rumor and Sigh, I said to Brad and Al that though Thompson didn't seem quite acerbic as Warren Zevon, I could sense a similarity in his hyper-descriptive lyricism. 

Following a short break, during which I learned that the U.S. had won, dramatically, Thompson plugged in and was joined by drummer Michael Jerome and bassist Taris Prodaniuk (credit to this blog post by Kirstie Shanley for the names I didn't quite catch).

The trio began with several songs I--and the considerably better-versed Brad--didn't recognize, but I've now pieced together that "Stuck on the Treadmill," "Sally B," "Salford Sunday" and "My Enemy" are all from last year's Electric.

I was enjoying the electric segment--which also included 1974's "For Love of Doing Wrong"--but wasn't quite dazzled until Thompson ripped off a 5-minute guitar solo (clip) at the end of 1988's "Can't Win" that had me asking Brad and Al:

"Why isn't this guy Eric Clapton?"

Both expressed consternation that, though highly regarded, Richard Thompson doesn't enjoy the type of mainstream popularity he is probably due. (Check out this video of the trio doing Cream's White Room at a show last year)

Thompson, Jerome and Prodaniuk then did a song introduced as being on their forthcoming EP. Titled "Fork in the Road," it was the best song in the electric segment to that point and hasn't even been released yet.

An excellent "Good Things Happen to Bad People" was next, followed by a pair of Shoot Out the Lights classics--"Did She Jump or Was She Pushed" and "Wall of Death"--sandwiched around "I'll Never Give It Up," a song from 2007's Sweet Warrior that sounded great even on my first hearing. 
Not only did powerful encores of "Tear Stained Letter" and "Daddy Rolling Stone" bring Thompson's total time onstage to approximately 2 hours--not bad for a free show--but the show performance ended just before a loud thundercrack was heard and the skies opened (albeit rather briefly). 

While I'm still hoping--perhaps foolishly--that another Nirvana will rear its head and return great rock to the forefront of pop culture, as my friend Ken noted just the other day, "I love when you can find something new in something 40 years old."

And thus I did at Millennium Park Monday night.

With great weather, good friends, a wonderful setting and the perfect price adding to the majesty of the evening, I saw Richard Thompson deliver a show that amplified what I should have already known while creating long-lasting memories anew.


Anonymous said...

Hey Seth, first ever visit to your blog. So very happy you posted this review as I was so very sorry to have missed the show. You're clearly spot on in your sentiments about Richard Thompson; a complete artist. And your two videos from the show, while naturally crude, still brought goosebumps. Performers like this are such a treasure, much like those who take time to expose their gifts. Thanks again and will check back soon. Keep up the good works! PB

Anonymous said...

An amazing show, Thompson is not afraid to go beyond mimicing his own greatest hits. One of my memories will be perhaps the best drummer I have seen in years--Michael Jerome

Anonymous said...

It isn't fair that Richard Thompson lives and performs in relative obscurity. He is truly a musical genius.