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Richard Thompson @ Marcus Center

Oct. 1, 2011

Oct. 3, 2011
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Saturday marked the first show of the current tour for British singer-songwriter Richard Thompson, and for a small but committed audience at Marcus Center's Vogel Hall he channeled all that pent-up energy and anticipation into an astounding solo performance, playing hits and obscure gems from his solo career as well as from his seminal folk rock group, Fairport Convention.

Alone in the spotlight throughout the 105-minute show, Thompson used his hybrid playing of picking and strumming to sound like he was playing multiple guitars. One of the foremost guitarists living today, Thompson continues to excel at 62. His set list included traditional ballads and contemporary originals, and he kept the audience mesmerized with amazing guitar work.

His rollicking sea shanty of a composition “Johnny's Far Away” showcased the adept storytelling within his songs, as did his haunting rendition of “Woods of Darney.” Thompson's tale of lost love due to war was seductive, with its antiwar messages, lingering presence of ghosts and musical underpinnings that created a moody, disturbing vibe.

Thompson, known for his love of wearing berets, used one of his signature hats to decide which song he should play. He reached into what he called his “beret of randomness” and drew a number, which in turn led him to play the 1974 tune “Hokey Pokey,” a song that sounded more like classic rock 'n' roll than his acoustic folk tales. Another original, “Valerie,” could have come straight out of a Chuck Berry songbook.

Thompson not only defies genres, but also expands on them through his multifaceted guitar work. The introspective “Crawl Back,” with its infectious chorus (the fans dove immediately into the call-and-response zone), could be played (and has been) by any number of hard rock bands, juxtaposed against “1952 Vincent Black Lightning,” Thompson's tale of fast living and tough love with dangerous consequences.

And the man is full of humor. His witty take on the Frank Loesser takeoff on Shakespeare, “Hamlet (Dog Eat Dog in Denmark),” showcased his funnyman persona, all the while working the guitar with supernatural craftsmanship.

However, his stirring live versions of ballads reached straight for the heart. “Sunset Song” and his classic “Dimming of the Day” held the audience in rapt attention, as couples reached for each other and others rose up in appreciation. The time went by all too quickly. But then, with an artist of this magnitude, there can never really be enough.


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