Sings Like Hell presents Richard Thompson’s 1,000 Years of
Popular Music

At the Lobero Theatre, Friday, May 12.

Reviewed by Charles Donelan

The trio — Richard Thompson, Debra Dobkin, and Judith
Owen — entered from the rear of the theater and marched down the
aisle to the stage. Followed by a single spotlight, they were
already singing and generally making a racket. It felt like the
beginning of a medieval ceremony, a piece of the “rough music” that
brought the workers of the 12th century out to the commons for a
bit of a good time. And so it was, for Richard Thompson’s marvelous
new show about the history of popular music really does begin in
the year 1190, and then proceeds to pour endless, effortless
draughts of popular music from the intervening centuries as though
it were all so much golden British ale.

Thompson’s stirring baritone — one of the world’s most
recognizable voices — easily conjures the misery and ecstasy of
centuries-old causes and conditions. Debra Dobkin performs very
creditably on drums and vocals, but it was Judith Owen who nearly
stole the show with her exquisite reading of “Cry Me a River,”
replete with vocal acrobatics and a fearsome microphone technique.
Owen provides the rich, tender counterpoint that Thompson’s singing
requires without consciously recalling either Linda Thompson or
Sandy Denny — no mean feat.

Thompson’s remarks about each of the evening’s many numbers
revealed a playful yet serious and scholarly knowledge of music and
its place in history. By the end of the evening, Thompson had woven
a web that stretched not only across the centuries but also around
the world, from Admiral Nelson’s column in Trafalgar Square
(“Trafalgar”), to Ray Davies in India (“See My Friends”), to the
rock ’n’ roll scene in Sydney, Australia, circa 1966. The latter,
as expressed in the Easybeats’s “Friday on My Mind,” a perfect
piece of British Invasion pop, was one of the evening’s many

Throughout the more than two hours of music, Thompson stayed
totally in the moment, never letting audience attention or his
crafty, subtly gorgeous guitar playing lag. Leading by example,
Thompson brought his listeners to focus on the twin aspects of the
popular tradition that clearly mean the most to him — its ongoing
solidarity with common people and their concerns, and its
persistent, often uncanny frivolity and irreverence. His
choices — animated by the connoisseur’s heightened feeling for the
telling detail and the entertainer’s sixth sense about what
works — were consistently surprising. The Beatles were represented
by “It Won’t Be Long,” a sneaky, sophisticated early example of the
Lennon/McCartney genius for the middle eight, and the jazz era was
revealed through the intricate syncopations of the Ink Spots’s
“Java Jive.” Like only the very best concerts, this one goes on and
on in your mind afterwards, rewriting history, one song at a


Please note this login is to submit events or press releases. Use this page here to login for your Independent subscription

Not a member? Sign up here.