Richard Thompson, Live at the Governor Hindmarsh Hotel, Adelaide, Australia (April 17, 2004)
As well as being a thoroughly unique songwriter, guitarist, and performer, Richard Thompson has always had a very self-deprecating sort of wit. At one point during this gig, his first full-length performance in Adelaide in 36 years of performing (excluding a couple of shorter WOMADelaide appearances), he said, "You can dance to these if you like. Tell all your friends you were dancing to a man with an acoustic guitar. How sad!" Let it be said this is no ordinary man with a guitar. Ask anybody who was in the 450-strong audience and they will tell you they were in the presence of a master. Just looking at the utterly transfixed and enthralled looks on their faces throughout the gig told that story very clearly.
Thompson is equally renowned for the depth and realism of his songwriting, and he was unafraid to start with a brand new song 'Watch Me Go' and then plunder his wide back catalogue for songs from his Fairport ('Sloth') and Richard & Linda Thompson ('For Shame Of Doing Wrong', 'Bright Lights Tonight') days, along with highlights from his more recent solo CDs. How many other artists can perform such wide-ranging music and make it all sound as if it belongs together? For example, following a moving song decrying the Taliban view of the world ('Outside Of The Inside') with a jazzy little ditty about Alexander Graham Bell.
The glue that binds it all together is the sheer virtuosity of his guitar work (an unoriginal observation is that he can sound like three guitarists at once) and the still-increasing vocal power he has developed. Thompson's voice may be an acquired taste to some, but he has learned to project it with a great deal of strength on songs such as 'Crawl Back'. The same couldn't be said for the audience, who declined the invitation to sing along at the appropriate point in the same song!
The possible quote of the evening was when Thompson introduced excerpts from his 1000 Years Of Popular Music show, saying he would avoid material from the Black Death era, such as 'It's My Pustule And I'll Cry If I Want To'! Instead, we were treated to an enthusiastic version of the medieval Italian song 'So Ben Mi Ca Bon Tempo', which gained a mini-standing ovation from the audience, along with a lovely version of the traditional 'Shenandoah' and the now almost-obligatory rendition of 'Oops I Did it Again'. The audience was once again reluctant to join in on the latter song, prompting Thompson to remark "You obviously don't know that one!"
Not only can the song themes vary widely, but so can the eras from which they come. That it works so effectively, and that his audience is also happy to go on such a rich and varied musical ride, says quite a lot about Richard Thompson's musicianship, stage presence, and songwriting ability. Two encores were given, the last comprising four songs which is apparently fairly unusual and showed that Thompson enjoyed the gig as much as the audience did. He certainly seemed appreciative of the reception he was given, with much of the crowd being very familiar with most of the songs he presented.
Support act Jodi Martin (originally from South Australia but now living in Sydney) proved worthy of the role with a short but very well-received set of mainly original material. Her personable demeanour and obvious skill in crafting memorable songs shall no doubt continue to stand her in good stead. Anyone who can write a song like 'Fresh Food People' about a chicken thief being pursued by supermarket staff blatantly deserves all of the success she gets. Gig of the year altogether? I can't imagine one to beat it, let's put it that way.
Richard Thompson's Web site is here. The Governor Hindmarsh Hotel also has its own site. This article, in slightly shorter form, was originally written for dB Magazine.