Long may Richard Thompson rule the six string. Perhaps no other artist can shift through so many musical styles as Thompson. Whereas his performance this past summer at the 2010 Folks Festival was all acoustic (and heavy on the English folk) his Tuesday night show at the Boulder Theater, backed by Pete Zorn (guitars, flute, sax, mandolin), Michael Jerome (drums), Taras Prodaniuk (bass) and Joel Zifkin (violin, mandolin), soared through pop stylings, country rave-ups, jazzy introspection, and straight rock.
Thompson is touring behind his latest album, “Dream Attic,” and played the entire record in proper order as his first set. Opening with “The Money Shuffle,” a searing indictment of financial advisers, with lyrics like “Your money is so safe with me / you never met such an honest man,” Thompson was somewhat restrained in his initial performance. His backing band stepped out frequently during the first few songs. On “Among the Gorse, Among the Grey,” Zifkin propelled the dreamlike number with a silky-smooth fiddle solo.
Thompson first really fired up on “Haul Me Up,” starting with staccato chicken picking and then launching into a fierce fingers-a-blazing solo to close the song. His song “Burning Man,” a tribute to the popular festival in the Nevada desert, seemed to somehow bring a part of the madness to Boulder, featuring dreamy, image-laden lyrics like “Out there in the desert air / penguin meets the polar bear.” Thompson noted that the song’s lyrics were based on his past experiences at the event.
Some of the new material seemed closer to Thompson’s English folk roots, such as “Here Comes Geordie,” which had a hint of an Irish jig in the penny whistle played by Zorn. “Sidney Wells” seemed straight out of the best tradition of English murder ballads such as “Long Lankin.” Thompson showcased some of his jaw-dropping talent on the guitar, building the solo to a fierce wail filled with piercing overtones. He closed the first set with the epic “If Love Whispers Your Name,” saying they needed a short break to recharge.
Thompson soon returned and kicked off the second set with “Time Will Show the Wiser,” from Fairport Convention’s first album. It quickly became apparent that though he had stepped out at times during the first set, Thompson was here to jam during the second. “Can’t Win” featured some epic guitar shredding that would make most aspiring guitar heroes weep in envy. Few pickers can alternate flatpicking with fingerpicking in a solo the way Thompson does, and it gives his playing a mesmerizing lyrical quality.
Though the focus of the night was his electric style, Thompson did pick up the acoustic for deft fingerpicking on “One Door Opens” and the jazzy “Al Bowlly’s in Heaven” on which he would play short little fills that showed a precision and emotion few players are able to achieve.
He returned to the electric for the pop-tinged “Wall of Death” and the fierce set-closing “Tear Stained Letter.” Thompson then came back for a three-song encore that left the crowd stomping their feet and cheering for more, even as the house lights and music came up.
Set 1 (Dream Attic)
The Money Shuffle
Among the Gorse, Among the Grey
Haul Me Up
Here Comes Geordie
Demons in Her Dancing Shoes
Big Sun Falling in the River
A Brother Slips Away
If Love Whispers Your Name
Time Will Show the Wiser
One Door Opens
Al Bowlly’s in Heaven
I’ll Never Give It Up
Wall of Death
Tear Stained Letter
E: Take Care the Road You Choose
I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight
Man in Need
Ryan Cutler is a Denver photographer and a new contributor to Reverb.