LIVE: Richard Thompson @ The Egg, 6/10/16

Review by Greg Haymes

Legendary singer-songwriter-guitar master Richard Thompson has been a regular visitor to the Greater Nippertown for quite some time now – primarily at The Egg in recent years – and he’s played in a wide variety of formats from solo acoustic to full-blown electric rock band. But his recent sold-out concert at The Egg’s Swyer Theatre was something completely different, as he was accompanied by a 14-piece string orchestra.

Under the direction of Peter Askim, the Next Festival of Emerging Artists – a Connecticut-based intensive one-week residency for young professional string players focused on musical exploration – crowded onto the stage with Thompson to perform his new “Killed in Action,” an hour-long art song cycle commissioned by 14-18 NOW, a British non-profit organization that’s utilizing the arts to commemorate the centennial of World War I.

Thompson used diaries and correspondence of soldiers and nurses on the Western Front as the source material for the lyrics, changing very little and making no attempt to make them rhyme or fit into any sort of conventional pop or folk song structure. And the heartbreakingly powerful result bore little musical resemblance to his previous work, from the pioneering Fairport Convention, his classic albums with his then-wife Linda or his vast and varied solo output.

Starting off with a jaunty instrumental rendition of “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary,” which rapidly deteriorated into a dissonant chaos to reflect the horrors of war, the 15-song piece was unrelentingly grim, yet the orchestra’s playing often lent a touch of sweet to the bitter.

After a short intermission, Thompson and the orchestra returned for what Thompson called “the happy half of the show.” Askim illustrated Thompson’s penchant for the dark side of the emotional scale by putting up air quotes around Thompson’s “happy,” garnering the first (but not the last) big laugh of the night.

The set featured Thompson and orchestra on the wide spectrum of Thompson’s catalog from the old (1976’s uplifting “The Great Valerio”) to the new (“Broken Doll” featuring Thompson’s sparkling guitarwork in counterpoint to the orchestra’s crisp pizzicato plucking). Along the way they also visited songs from other Thompson orchestral projects (“Cabaret of Souls” and “Interviews With Ghosts”), a panoramic, Aaron Copland-esque treatment of the old folk fave “Shenandoah” and even a chugging cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Out of Time.”

For the set of encores Thompson served up solo renditions of his barn-burning narrative “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” and “Fergus Laing,” a very thinly veiled attack on Donald Trump that drew the biggest laughs of the night, before wrapping it all up with that classic melding of pop-and-strings, the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby.”

Reprinted with the permission of The Times Union

Steven Stock’s review at The Spot 518

“Killed in Action”
Word Unspoken, Sight Unseen
Broken Doll
Auldie Riggs (from “Cabaret of Souls”)
Woods of Darney
Razor Dance
I’ll Take My Sorrows to the Sea (from “Interviews With Ghosts”)
Clive Smythe (from “Cabaret of Souls”)
Shenandoah (traditional)
Out of Time (Rolling Stones)
The Great Valerio (Richard & Linda Thompson)
1952 Vincent Black Lightning (solo)
Fergus Laing (solo)
Eleanor Rigby (the Beatles)

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