“We don’t want you leaving early, so we’re playing the mediocre stuff first,” Richard Thompson joked, responding to a fan’s shouted request midway through his set Friday night at New York’s Town Hall. “Then we’ll get to the timeless hits. Timeless, timeless hits.”
He did keep his tongue-in-cheek word, eventually leading his band through favorites like “Wall of Death” and “Tear Stained Letter” (the former dating back to his time with then-wife Linda Thompson). But for many in the crowd, the real treat had already come: Since his opening act had been prevented from joining him due to visa issues (an annoyingly common problem for music lovers), Thompson filled in himself with a solo acoustic set.
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Speaking as if he were an unknown songwriter thrilled at the “great opportunity” to open for a star, Thompson stepped out alone to excited applause and started with “Stony Ground.” The solo set offered only one number from Thompson’s new Jeff Tweedy-produced album Still: “Josephine,” a haunted portrait that sits in the middle of the largely upbeat record like a mourner at the circus. (Still‘s other chiller, “Broken Doll,” would be a highlight of the electric set.)
“Josephine” aside, the first set’s focus was less on emotional intimacy than on six-string virtuosity. Thompson struck mocking macho poses for “Johnny’s Far Away,” his look at infidelity on both sides of a touring musician’s marriage, and shrugged with a faux-modest “it’s nothing, really” when the crowd whooped at his solo. He did some showoffy stringbending on “Valerie,” and then unexpectedly pulled out the big guns: a showstopping rendition of “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” in which he relished stretching out the word “rrrriiiiiide” while his fingers picked up the pace.
After the unexpected first set, the main event was rather anticlimactic, which is not to say that the room full of devoted fans (most of them old enough to have been with Thompson from the start) was disappointed. Playing with an electric trio, he leaned on hard rockers like “Sally B,” from 2013’s Electric. “For Shame of Doing Wrong” was especially heavy, with Michael Jerome‘s bombastic drumming anchoring things; the next tune, “Hard on Me,” stretched out so long that even bassist Taras Prodaniuk got to solo.
In between shredding sessions, Thompson offered calmer numbers like “Beatnik Walking,” a folky travelogue from Still that follows the songwriter through “Amsterdam, where good things come in threes.” Here, he briefly put down his Fender Stratocaster in favor of his acoustic guitar — giving volume-sensitive fans a break, and reminding everyone how lucky they were to have seen two Richard Thompson shows for the price of one.
[Solo acoustic set]
The Ghost of You Walks
Johnny’s Far Away
1952 Vincent Black Lightning
Dimming of the Day
[With electric trio]
All Buttoned Up
For Shame of Doing Wrong
Hard on Me
Al Bowlly’s in Heaven
Did She Jump or Was She Pushed?
I’ll Never Give It Up
Wall of Death
If Love Whispers Your Name
Patty Don’t You Put Me Down
Tear Stained Letter
Dry My Tears and Move On
Daddy Rolling Stone
This article was originally published by The Hollywood Reporter.