“It’s really fun opening for yourself,” proclaimed Richard Thompson, alone onstage with his dazzling guitar, two songs into his long-awaited return to the Lobero Theatre. “Cheaper, too.”
Thompson led with the romantic grandeur of “When the Spell Is Broken,” from his early solo years, and then turned the calendar back to the explosive “Walking on a Wire” from the greatest break-up-with-the-wife album ever, Shoot Out the Lights. It’s safe to say the crowd was already his, dazzled by his fret-board pyrotechnics, a simultaneous play of bass, strum, and complicated picking. And then he transcended the merely virtuosic with the soulful howl of his voice. The rest of the self-employed opening act ranged as far back as the late 1960s for the Fairport Convention protest song “Genesis Hall” to newer songs like the cruise-ship sea shanty “Johnny’s Far Away,” and, (gratefully) the mandatory favorite, “1952 Vincent Black Lightning,” a song so good Bob Dylan sang it onstage with Thompson a few weeks back.
If the first set was the dazzler, the second two thirds of the show were more controversial. Thompson mixed sure crowd-pleasers like “Al Bowlly’s in Heaven (I’m in Limbo Now)” with brand-new songs like “Good Things Happen to Bad People,” all played with his new troupe, the Electric Trio, featuring bassist Taras Prodaniuk and drummer Michael Jerome. And Thompson sorta took a back seat and had fun, like he does, singing beautiful notes about abject misery and unwinnable women.
Some fans felt let down, but, as always, there were timeless treasures, like “Did She Jump or Was She Pushed” and the exquisite “For Shame of Doing Wrong.” “I wish I was a fool for you still,” Thompson sang. Nobody else working writes laments with that much breathing paradox and poetry. He can open and close for himself here anytime.