Richard Thompson at the Tralfamadore Cafe, Buffalo, New York, November 4, 1999. A review by Tom Kailbourn, Wellsville, New York.
The fourth of November in Buffalo was unseasonably/unreasonably warm and sunny, an auspicious prelude to an evening with The Man. The venue, the Tralfamadore Cafe (better known as "The Tralf"), is situated on the second floor of a renovated building in the heart of downtown. It is--dare I utter it--an intimate, though decidedly non-funky, club with good acoustics and a fine sound system.
Richard Thompson and band hit the stage running with a chugging, rockabilly "Cook's Ferry Queen," and received their first of many standing ovations. They played about half of the songs on "Mock Tudor." "Hard on Me" blazed like a blowtorch, while "Uninhabited Man" unfolded with stately grace. (Am I the only person who thinks of Neil Young circa 1976 each time I hear that song?) RT introduced "Sights and Sounds of London Town" by cautioning the audience, "If you're ever contemplating a vacation to London, go to Australia or some other place instead. The travel brochures never tell you about the rats running in the streets."
After the "Mock Tudor" mini-set, RT and band turned to "the classics"-- "I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight" (gets my vote for a Perfect Song in every respect), "I Feel So Good," "She Twists the Knife Again," "When the Spell is Broken," "Razor Dance," "Wall of Death," and "A Man in Need." "Tear Stained Letter" was a show-stopper that Thompson turned into a massive sing-along: what could have been a tired old live-performance cliche turned into a lusty, fun, cooperative effort.
RT and son Teddy Thompson duetted on moving, acoustic renditions of "Jennie" and "A Heart Needs a Home." (Particularly interesting to see the son of Linda Thompson perform the latter--and well!)
One of the most enjoyable facets of the show was watching RT and bandmates interact. RT cracked many a wry grin when somebody (including himself!) played a nice bit; Danny Thompson would break out of his hawk-like concentration with a broad smile when Michael Jerome, a FANTASTIC drummer, played something he liked. These are not bored superstars just doing a job: RT and band acted like they were having fun and were glad to be there!
RT's legendary inter-song stage banter did not disappoint. To a slightly sozzled fan who kept yelling, "We love you," RT replied, "Yeah, I love you too, but not that much!" Same fan: "I'm just having fun!" RT: "I'd be having fun too if I'd had as many tequilas as you." Thompson gently needled somebody in the front row, "What are you doing? . . . Writing? . . . You're taking notes! Hmmm, odd thing to do at a rock concert. Can we see them?"
Best of all was RT's story about playing the Tralf in 1983 billed as the "Richard Thompson Big Band." Just before that show he peeked through the stage curtains and saw a large number of old ladies seated in the front, anxiously awaiting. "They evidently saw the 'Big Band' posters and thought they were going to get something like Glenn Miller or Benny Goodman. After six or seven gins, they enjoyed our show just fine."
Back to the Tralf, 1999 . . . scattered impressions: Someone at the bar starts bellowing for "Lotteryland" early in the show, and keeps it up until deciding he wants to hear "Pig Iron" [sic] instead. He means "Big Chimney," a song about the steel industry. This makes sense, since Buffalo used to be a steel town back in the days when they still manufactured such a thing in the USA . . . Danny Thompson's bass: a truly fearsome instrument whose low notes fairly seem without bottom . . . RT's playing on electric guitar on the fast songs: reckless but utterly right . . . "1952 Vincent Black Lightning," fast, accurate, and impeccable, just like its namesake. The sound was excellent; all instruments were well-miked and their individual sounds could be discerned, the mix was good, and the sound level was just right (no after-show ringing of ears).
After twenty-plus songs, two and a half hours, and several encores, RT waved at (I'd almost say "saluted") the crowd and exited. Two thoughts came to mind: "Best twenty dollars I ever spent," and "I wouldn't mind doing this every night." Somebody who knows some of the finest local Buffalo musicians told me that they got together after the show and debated burning up their guitars in a huge bonfire. Don't give up yet, guys: buy some of those Richard Thompson instruction tapes and keep trying! And thank you Richard Thompson for putting on a really fine show!
This review was emailed to me privately and has not been published on the list.
Thanks for the review, Tom!