Sunday, December 14, 2008

Concert Review: Richard Thompson - Garrick Theatre, Winnipeg, MB, 12/05/2008

Around 500 people showed up to witness one of the world's most famous folk musicians perform an exhilarating 110 minute show.

Well, what can be said about the caliber of musician that Richard Thompson (April 3, 1949) is? Everyone who knows who he is, pretty much agrees that he is among the top singer-songwriter guitar players around. Rolling Stone ranked him as the 19th greatest guitarist in the world. Others list him as the finest guitarist not from the blues tradition. While such lists are very subjective, you'll never hear anyone say that he isn't among the best in the world.

There were many moments when I thought to myself that his acoustic guitar playing alone was well worth the price of admission. Thompson may very well be the finest acoustic guitarist who I've seen live. He's fluid, fast, mistake-free, damn near perfect without ever sounding sterile and machine-like. If you thought folk music was nothing but slow guitar playing, you'd be wrong and Thompson would be one of many examples that would impress even a thrash metal guitarist.

Despite being all by himself on the stage, there was never a dull moment. Like fellow Brit Billy Bragg, Thompson spoke quite a bit to the audience, providing the stories behind the songs and telling funny tales. It was entertaining, especially since he poses a keen intellect and a priceless wit. One of his songs, a decidedly fun number, was about how he prefers girls who wear glasses because they tend to be brainy, as the stereotype goes.

People were constantly laughing throughout that song as he made rhymed references to intellectuals and emotions (Krishnamurti and "dirty," anyone?)

Thompson opened the show with "I Feel So Good," a witty hit song from 1991's Rumor and Sigh. He introduced "Dad's Gonna Kill Me" from the latest album by discussing the various slang references that the US soldiers in Iraq utilize: "Dad" is Baghdad; "Ali Babba" refers to any Arab; "Frankenstein" refers to Humvees with special armor plating meant to thwart road side bombs. Also from his 1991 album was the most requested song on National Public Radio, the guitar finger picking sensation "1952 Vincent Black Lighting."

For fan favorite 1999's "Crawl Back (Under My Stone)" from Mock Tudor, Thompson would sing one part of the rousing chorus and step away from the mike to encourage and hear the audience chime right in. It was a vigorous workout and no less effective given that was playing acoustic guitar for the entire show. He introduced 1988's "Pharaoh" from the Amnesia album as being about when he wonders about the powerful companies and conglomerates who control the world.

His current album, 2007's Sweet Warrior was represented by "Needle and Thread", "Bad Monkey", "Mr. Stupid," "Sunset Song." For his second encore, he called out for requests only to be totally inundated with shouts from the audience, but he must have heard people calling for 1994's "Beeswing." Some songs were speedy, some were cheeky and clever, some were bittersweet but they were pretty much all songs that I would want to hear again.

Opener Dan Frechette, a twenty year (or so) veteran of the folk scene, put on a brilliant set. His first song was practically ripped from today's headlines, about the financial crisis in the US and the interests of Wall Street clashing with that of the average person. Frechette is one of those singer-songwriters who are the real deal, rather than being a wannabe. He's got the music in him and there's so much of it that much of his musical energy exits out of his right foot, which stomps the stage to provide a catchy anchor to his acoustic guitar and harmonica music. Towards the end of a song, the intensity of the foot stomping increases as Frechette's literally picks up his leg and lets it slam down with great force. He has a new album out and I can't wait to buy a copy. See this guy and you'll know that you've seen someone special.

My rating for this show is 5/5.


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