It is no easy task to entertain a crowd for nearly two hours with just a voice and a guitar. But Richard Thompson’s addendum Sings Like Hell performance at the Lobero last Wednesday made it look like a breeze. The evening began with Eliza Gilkyson, a conventional singer/songwriter whose entirely agreeable opening set was marred by the inclusion of an unnecessary and wholly uninspired anti-Bush song, “Man of God,” which claims that George W. is a hypocrite for declaiming his religious convictions while perpetrating an illegal war-hardly edgy or enlightening material. Her set was redeemed, however, by an achingly beautiful cover of “Greenfields”-a song penned by her late father, the celebrated pop songwriter Terry Gilkyson.
After a brief intermission, Thompson took the stage and didn’t let up for nearly two hours. His playing technique throughout was impeccable, his fingerpicking and solos adding a depth to the music not usually heard at a solo acoustic show. The set list drew from all periods of his career and swung effortlessly between gorgeous ballads and rousing rockers. At one point early in the set, Thompson played the brand-new “Dad’s Gonna Kill Me” (available as a free download on his Web site, richardthompson-music.com) and explained the song was written from the perspective of a solider in Iraq, using modern military slang to convey its message of empathy. The blistering track was followed by a jokey tune in which Thompson proclaimed his love for smart women with a variety of puns equating the life of the mind with the baser elements of human desire. If attempted by a lesser performer, such an abrupt shift in tone between songs could have been unnerving, but with Thompson’s talent and confidence the segue came off as completely natural.
Thompson’s set also mined his early work with then-wife Linda Thompson. The albums they created as a duo from 1974-1982 are regarded as some of the finest documents of modern folk-rock songcraft, and his renditions of classics such as “I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight” and “Down Where the Drunkards Roll” were just as forceful and immediate as the album versions. His first of two encores concluded with “Wall of Death,” the final track off 1982’s Shoot Out the Lights-the last album the pair recorded together and a painful chronicle of their impending divorce-and it was certainly this reviewer’s favorite moment during a concert that could easily be described as highlight after highlight.