Carolina Theatre, Greensboro
Friday, Oct. 27
"Don't think I've been here before, have I?" Richard Thompson, alone onstage for this tour, asked a near capacity crowd for his debut at Greensboro's Carolina Theatre. "If I played here before and you're having me back, it's amazing." Thompson must have been joking: In an hour-and-40-minute, double-encore set, he showed off his nimble mind, fleet fingers and four decades of a career.
He's a folkie, a rocker and a mad scientist of the guitar. A master of dissonance, Thompson tosses out jarring, somehow jangly chords unused by most other guitarists. It was just him and his, but he sounded like an orchestra. His voice filled the room.
Thompson's lyrics are often dark and vindictive, as with "Crawl Back": "This time you hurt me/ Did you count your fingers after shaking my hand? I'll crawl back under my stone." But he's also capable of beautiful poetry with songs like "She Sang the Angels to Rest" and "Sunset Song." With his military bearing and beret, Thompson looks more like a revolutionary than a folkie. He showed he can write a mean protest song with "'Dad." It's not about parenting. "'Dad" is soldier-speak for Baghdad: "'Dad's gonna kill me," he sings. "Before I came out here, I never prayed/ Nobody loves me here/ 'Dad's in a bad mood/ 'Dad's got the blues."
Thompson lightened the mood with a novelty song, "Got the Hots for the Smarts," delivering it like Tim Curry in Rocky Horror: "Now you may like pin-ups/ Of girls who do chin-ups/ Like Xena the Warrior Princess/ But I'll take to dinner/ My Nobel Prize winner/ With plutonium stains down her dress."
It seems that Thompson can't write a bad song, penning one pithy, succinct statement about life and love after the other. And he holds it together with his innovative, genre-wandering guitar breaks. He's a rockin' troubadour with the soul of a poet and a wicked sense of humor. Though a lot of his recorded work seems cold and dreary, live, he's a warm, engaging performer. An evening with Richard Thompson will rearrange your musical horizons. It's a makeover you owe yourself.