in performance: richard thompson electric trio

Richard Thompson.

Four songs into a tireless two hour Wednesday performance at Headliners Music Hall in Louisville, Richard Thompson asked a favor of the elders in the audience.

“Keep living,” the veteran British guitarist and songsmith requested. “We need your demographic to keep rolling for a few more years.”

Such a remark might suggest Thompson, 69, was viewing himself as unfashionable to the pop mainstream, which he probably is. Then again, as this astonishing performance asserted, his music’s balance of British folk tradition and vintage American rock ‘n’ roll vigor has never made for charttopping material. It has been always too alert, too human and, as often was the case Wednesday evening, too combustible for most commercial tastes.

Fronting his trio of longtime drummer Michael Jerome and bassist Taras Prodaniuk with occasional rhythm guitar support from Bobby Eichorn, Thompson remained an artist of his own time during this predominantly electric outing. That meant rolling out new tunes from his “13 Rivers” album that shifted from the jittery introspection of the show-opening “Bones of Gilead” to the percussive Celtic-flavored foreboding of “The Storm Won’t Come,” which demonstrated both the efficiency of his trio and stylistic adaptability of his guitar work.

Thompson, of course, is a properly heralded instrumentalist. But on Wednesday, it wasn’t the sheer drive and drama of his playing that astounded (although the extended guitar rampage that ignited the forgotten 1988 gem “Can’t Win” rightly earned an ovation). Equally intriguing were the short electric blasts that punctuated the “13 Rivers” tune “Her Love Was Meant For Me.” Hearing Thompson dispense his performance smarts in such contained but potent outbursts was one of the program’s many delights.

Some of the songs strayed into yesteryear in ways both artful and playful, as on “Guitar Heroes” (from 2015’s “Still” album), a self-deprecating slice of fan worship that allowed Thompson to mimic such inspirational guitar forefathers as Django Reinhardt, Les Paul, Chuck Berry and Hank Marvin. Others were rooted in a more restless sense of nostalgia, such as the jazzy and acoustic “They Tore the Hippodrome Down.” Then there were the two songs pulled from the deepest corners of Thompson’s own past – specifically, a pair of 50 year old works he penned for Fairport Convention, “Meet on the Ledge” and the impossibly obscure “Tale in Hard Time.”
The show ended with the evening’s lone cover, a rumbling reading of the 1966 Sorrows single “Take a Heart.” Despite its history as a slice of vintage Brit pop, Thompson’s reading worked as an ominous duel with Jerome, whose percussion fills proved a cunning foil for the guitarist’s varied electric adventures throughout the evening.

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