Somerville Theater - 24 October 1996

From the Boston Globe review of the 10/24 show at the Somerville Theater. A rather lame review, but here it is:

Thompson's biting wit adds to electric show

By Jim Sullivan, Globe Staff, 10/24/96

SOMERVILLE - Near the beginning of last night's concert, Richard Thompson invited the sellout crowd at the Somerville Theatre to get up and dance. He also noted that if you did so "security will smash your brains out, but we don't care, it's not our problem."

It is this wonderfully perverse cheer - Basil (John Cleese) Fawlty as rock star - that helps make the lanky singer-songwriter-guitarist as much fun as he is in concert. (His albums are more serious affairs.) Sure, he's penned his share of dark, dour, depressing songs, but when he opens his yap he can ... uh ...threaten violence.

Thompson, especially when he's fronting the Richard Thompson Band, puts a few demands on his audience. You know that an acoustic segment (solo, duo or trio) will form a chunk of the concert, but you have to realize that a string of bracing electric rock 'n' roll may well kick it off and close it. Rock out; folk out; rock out. It is this sweep and depth - and there's a boatload of variety (polka, traditional English ballads, country, Cajun) within the broader genres - that puts Thompson on Neil Young footing. A jack of all trades, who happens to be a master as well.

This, of course, didn't stop one patron from yelling "Play something beautiful!" after the fifth snarling(beautiful) hard rocker in a row. (Somerville is just a stone's throw from Cambridge, after all.) The black-clad, beret-sporting Thompson made a little joke and mocked himself, his band, and the fan with "Who are these rock gods?"

They are saxophonist/mandolinist/guitarist Pete Zorn, double bassist Danny Thompson and drummer Dave Mattacks. And their long set - we had to leave after an hour and 45 minutes to make deadline - was a typical Thompson delight, a swath through our emotional range, with maybe an emphasis on romantic disillusionment. "Razor Dance" began the show - try to picture a couple dancing along a razor's edge with Thompson whipsawing through with vicious guitar licks. "Back Street Slide" is Thompson's rollicking, stuttering song of betrayal - "Stab you in the back with a kitchen knife!" In "Cold Kisses," he secretly searches a lover's drawers for hints of her past - and clues about the lover he must measure up to. In "Put It There," he accused his ex-mate of vampirism and decided, "You deserve everything you got coming." "Shoot Out the Lights," Thompson's metaphor of a suicide as a final solution, was ferocious and chilling, the most full-tilt version of this we've heard yet. Zorn played the rocking-estmandolin on the planet.

So, there's bitterness and anger. He also sang character songs - of the doomed James and Molly in the fingerpicking gem, "1952 Black Vincent," of a soldier's attempt to find comfort in the trenches in "Woods of Darney." He condensed "Hamlet" to pop-song length - a Loudon Wainwright 3d type of song that features a "lesson"/"delicatessan" rhyme - and he toyed with a skull on stage. It was that of a former bass player, he told the audience, looking at Danny Thompson (no relation). A bassist who asked for a raise. Danny immediately played his part, pledging fealty. It was Monty Python reborn. He even answered the way-cliched audience shout of "Free Bird" - funny no more - with an opening verse of the darn song, referencing the late Lynyrd Skynyrd singer Ronnie Van Zant's dimunitive stature. And he won our eternal gratitude for responding to a - not funny either - request for the Grateful Dead's "Dark Star," with a serious, "I wouldn't know it if I heard it." Thompson and company came crashing to the end of the regular set with "Wall of Death" - a song of defiance - and "Tear-Stained Letter," a song of carthasis and spite. "Cry, cry, if it makes you feel better," he spat. "Set it all down in a tear-stained letter!"

Tonight's show is sold out.

Consumer note: An "authorized bootleg" double-CD of the Thompson Band live, recorded by Bostonian Tom Dube, will be available Dec. 1 for $19.95 plus postage. Checks should be made out to Frank Kornelussen and sent to: Flypaper, Box 391, Wainscott, NY 11975.

Joe Buschini