When: Fri., Oct. 14, 8 p.m. 2016
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 14
Richard Thompson was a shy suburban kid with a stutter when he was inspired to pick up the guitar by his domineering dad, a policeman with a fondness for Django Reinhardt. By his mid-teens, Richard had joined Fairport Convention, an outfit that initially focused on the American wing of singer-songwriters like Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. Eventually, the band sought inspiration in its home turf of the British Isles, and in doing so, pretty much came up with folk-rock. Thompson's solos were electrifying, his songs hymnlike, old before their time and defiantly out of step with the Day-Glo zeitgeist of the late sixties. In the next decade he followed a musical path that included session work with folks like Nick Drake and John Cale and, most prominently, a tumultuous partnership as a husband-and-wife duo with Linda Thompson, which included a period of immersion in Sufism and culminated in a crushing divorce and the masterful Shoot Out the Lights in 1982.
Thompson found new love, moved to L.A., and focused on his career as never before. He built a respectable American audience, but he has always been a bit too dire for mass appreciation. This is a writer who, moved to write about a newly born child, chooses not to emulate life-affirming benedictions like Dylan's "Forever Young" or Stevie Wonder's "Isn't She Lovely." Rather, he devises "End of the Rainbow," a desolate number that begins, "I feel for you, you little horror." Even on the optimistic-seeming "I Feel So Good," his biggest U.S. single, the singer is thrilled to be breaking somebody's heart. His signature "1952 Vincent Black Lightning," brilliantly reimagines that paragon of melodrama: the teenage death song. And Thompson's voice can sound as final as the drone of an ancient instrument.
Happily, the big change in Thompson over the years is that he's come to embrace the role of frontman. He's now as acclaimed for his between-song digressions as for his songwriting and guitar skills. Tonight, he'll show you. —David Klein
UNC'S MEMORIAL HALL, CHAPEL HILL
8 p.m., $10–$69, www.carolinaperformingarts.org