The ever reliable Richard Thompson returns to the Birmingham Symphony Hall in what seems like a heartbeat since his last visit for the ‘Electric’ tour of 2013. This time around, to the casual observer, it would appear that very little has changed. Like the previous visit, Thompson is promoting a new album, “Still” that is garnering joyous reviews across the masses of musical publications. He has, like the last visit, brought with him the truly splendid concoction of Michael Jerome (drums) and Davey Faragher (bass).
The familiar sight of these two sidekicks, and their emergence from the depths of blood red hue that dominates the Symphony Hall stage is halted momentarily as Thompson greets the Birmingham crowd, accompanied by daughter Kami Thompson and son-in-law James Walbourne, aka The Rails. The opening song will be ‘That’s Enough’. The always self-effacing Thompson making light of the political context by introducing the song as some grotesque and cumbersome attempt at 70’s social commentary. Of course, it isn’t. The song is swathed in a poetic brutality, whilst the performance is anthemic, heartfelt and wholly rousing.
The evening set list will map the splendour of most periods of the Thompson canon. At some twenty songs, the audience are certainly getting their money’s worth. As you would expect, a sizeable proportion of this set list will look to cover the latest material from the superb Jeff Tweedy produced album, ’Still’. In typical Thompson style, a joke is made about the audience having to endure listening to the new stuff, whilst their favourites hang tantalisingly close on the proverbial stick. That’s the deal, we are all acutely aware of the arrangement between performer and audience. Indeed, this can be a problem if your band of choice have recently taken such a directional change that you feel like the hapless friend that stayed home, whilst their best friend took the gap year, returning with dreadlocks, tribal tattoos and only a distant semblance of the person that you genuinely liked.
Being a Thompson fan is easy. The new material is warmly received and will account a respectable quarter or so of the night’s set. ‘All Buttoned Up’ is the first song taken from the new album.
A funky, quirky and momentous number which brings together the trio of Thompson, Jerome and Faragher. With this show being nicely nestled within the middle portion of the UK tour, it means that the band are fully warmed up with every sinew of them ready to expand and contract over the course of each undertaking. As anticipated, the band expertly execute not only the rhythmic instrumentation, but they also manage to pull off the demanding vocal duties required. All three are in fine voice and this first song sets a precedent that will be delivered song after song as the evening moves onwards towards the regrettable conclusion.
Indeed, this foreboding at the prospect of the evening coming to an end is best demonstrated by the audience. Following the conclusion of Thompson’s second encore, nobody moves, all firmly planted to the floor in the hope that their applause will penetrate the recesses of the hall and draw Thompson out for one more helping. Sadly, this is not to be the case, nevertheless, Thompson has deliver’s a splendid selection of new material and classics such as ‘Wall of Death’, ‘If Love Whispers Your Name’, ‘Did She Jump or Was She Pushed’ and my personal highlight of the evening, ‘1952 Vincent Black Lightning’. It’s been a long time coming, but to finally witness Thompson playing the unfathomable notes that accompany the tale of young love and its inevitable destruction is a joy to behold. As I mentioned earlier, Thompson is ever reliable and therefore, it is with a resolute heart that I look forward to Thompson’s next visit to Birmingham.
Review: Chris Curtis