Richard Thompson seems incapable of giving a bad performance. On a recent Friday night at the Lobero, he even used some of the same quips from last year’s performance there, joking about opening for himself to save money. Which meant, to the ecstatic crowd of fans, he would play solo for a short while, take a break and then come back with his band. For a lot of folky purists that opener is the best part. Now in his mid sixties Thompson, of course, did not disappoint for a second. Opening with “Stony Ground” and “The Ghost of You Walks,” Thompson’s fingers, with their astonishing ability to provide the audience three distinctive voices from one guitar without looping, seemed to need very little warm up. By the time he reached “Vincent White Lightning 1952,” the showstopper, he’d already earned two midsong rounds of applause, particularly in a prolonged acoustic screaming riff on “Valerie.” I hardly need to add that his is the most beautiful virtuosity you’ll ever hear. The pyrotechnics matched by the haunting quality of voice and words: “Blue murder on the dance floor,” he sings in “Ghost of You Walks.” “French kisses in the rain.”
But the best part, and never mind those folkies, is Thompson with a band, something he has loved thoroughly since he was 18 and starting up Fairport Convention, which only went folk rock after shedding its psychedelic origins. The new band features Michael Jerome on drums and Davey Faragher (Cracker, John Hiatt) on bass, both as precise and soulful as their boss.
It was sometimes a barrage (“Tearstained Letter”), frequently delicate (“Al Bowlly’s in Heaven”), occasionally bordering on the novelty (“Guitar Heroes”), but the heart of the show was located in two songs played together: “Broken Dolls” and “For Shame of Doing Wrong.” The former seemed both choreographed and as symphonic as a power trio might possibly be. The latter is an old song that Thomson sang with his former wife Linda. The refrain is one of rock’s deepest expressions of pathos. “I wish I was a fool for you again,” says the song’s narrator.
Here’s hoping that Thompson comes back every year with exactly the same jokes and the same blue murder on the dance floor.