For all you rabid Richard Thompson freaks out there (and I proudly count myself among you), there's a new treat for you to add to your (no doubt) extensive collections of the English folk-rock demi-god's music. His first full-length concert DVD is out, courtesy of Cooking Vinyl/spinART and under the direction of producer Eric Masunaga of Modulus DVD. Just in case you're new to Thompson, he's known for his biting and darkly intelligent (some might say doom-laden) songwriting, innovative and singular guitar-playing, and for his intensely charged, riveting live shows. He fully inhabits his songs and some say he's the best solo performer alive, but he crosses over from acoustic performances to full band electric shows with easy grace. This DVD is a band show, filmed at Lupo's in Providence, RI. The band consists of longtime cohort, utility man Pete Zorn on horns, guitar, mandolin, and backup vocals, Rory McFarlane on electric and stand-up basses, and Earl Harvin on drums and percussion. The rhythm section is especially key here: McFarlane's tasty and subtle lines lock in with Harvin's creative and solid rhythms to ground the band enough so that Thompson and Zorn can really jump out there (check out their solos on "Shoot Out The Lights").
You fans will find a number of your favorite classics on here, including "Tear-Stained Letter," "Gethsemane," the aforementioned "Shoot Out The Lights," and, thank goodness, "1952 Vincent Black Lightning" (one of the greatest solo guitar story songs ever). For every song included, there are a half dozen that I wish could have been, but time, set lists, and artist prerogative would not allow, I'm sure.
This DVD has all the charms of a live show, including the fact that live shows are flawed. The flubs and occasional out of tune instruments are all part of the live thing and you wouldn't want it any other way, except for the fact that you wouldn't even notice them if you were actually there, caught up in the excitement of the show. Watching a DVD of Richard Thompson is, of course, a more removed experience than that, for better or worse. I actually found myself feeling a little guilty for even noticing the mistakes.
It's a cool venue, just big enough to hold what looks to be a healthy standing room only crowd. In fact, it looks like everyone is standing. The lighting is good: moody and colorful, but not too dark and never distracting. There are enough cameras being operated to give a rounded, multi-faceted feel to the show. The sound is clear, a little on the trebley side, depending, to some degree, what you watch it on. I viewed it on a few different sets, ranging from my computer (not recommended: bass? oh, was there a bass player?) to a reasonably large set with decent sound, and the bass was always subtle. If you have a way of plugging your television into your great speakers, by all means do it, not to miss any aspect of the performances.
I could wish that there were just a bit more of Thompson's entertaining banter, which always peppers his shows. There's a little--mostly playful and slyly self-mocking jabs at the age of the audience (boomers, to a large degree, by the look of them). He's so good at off-the-cuff responses and we get a hit of that, but they're kept it to a minimum.
One of the coolest aspects of this DVD is the considerable archive footage of Thompson from 1981 to 2001. It gives a bird's eye view of how this legendary artist has evolved over the years, as a musician, writer, and performer. It's especially fun to see him in a thoroughly 80s suit playing in his 1985 band with the fantastic Clive Gregson, on a stage that is so poorly lit, they might be playing in a closet with a flashlight. After you watch these clips, go back to the concert--it'll give you a new appreciation of Thompson's growth as an artist and showman.
a die-hard, you'll love being able whip out your R.T. DVD anytime you
need a hit of him. If you're a die-hard and a guitar wonk, you'll
appreciate being able to watch his hands over and over. If you're new
to Richard Thompson, this DVD just might make you a fan--and then, watch
out, you'll be front row center at every show.
[In lieu of audio clips from the DVD, we're featuring some from Thompson's most recent studio album, The Old Kit Bag, plus a few from live cuts on the 1993 3-CD box set Watching The Dark: The History Of Richard Thompson.]