British singer- songwriter and guitar virtuoso Richard Thompson made his annual Colorado Front Range appearance on Friday at Boulder’s Chautauqua Auditorium. Such is Thompson’s versatility and popularity among other artists, that, in some other cities this summer, Thompson is playing as part of either Bob Dylan’s AmericanaramA, or Peter Frampton’s Guitar Circus tours.
The Chautauqua performance featured just Thompson, his acoustic guitar and a microphone. No matter, Thompson’s deep baritone voice and vocal style is as much a pleasure to hear as his guitar playing. He’s a master of both, using his voice and guitar to create a whole spectrum of moods and has decades of songs with which to create them.
In a set lasting just under two hours, Thompson played material from throughout his 40-plus-year recording career, including Fairport Convention’s “Crazy Man Michael,” “Shoot Out The Lights” (from his and then wife, Linda’s, brilliant, 1982, greatest break-up album ever, of the same name), his ’90s Capitol work (the ballad, “Al Bowlly’s In Heaven” absolutely transported the show to a different time) and songs from his 2013 release, “Electric” (“Good Things Happen To Bad People”).
Thompson’s noted wit, a trademark of so many of his songs, appeared frequently during breaks, as well. And it’s this wit that makes Thompson a master of stage banter: “I try to keep my ticket prices about one-20th that of the Rolling Stones,” he said. “Some of these songs are getting old, aren’t they?” and introducing his cover of the Frank Loesser tune, “Hamlet (Dog Eat Dog in Denmark),” with “This is from Shakespeare’s third album.”
The other constant, Thompson’s picking and playing was impressive, as expected and rarely showy. Even at 64, playing with nothing to prove, Thompson can still amaze on acoustic (or electric) guitar, long after more heralded peers (Clapton, Beck and Page) have either retired or devolved into playing middle of the road mush. While a full band show and Thompson “plugged in” would have been wonderful, Thompson by himself, on his acoustic guitar, playing his songs (and a few choice covers), was more than enough to make for a great night of music.
Mike Long is a Longmont-based writer and comedian and a regular contributor to Reverb.