No opener. Nothing on stage but a modest drum set, a bass rig and two tiny guitar amps, one for acoustic and a simple Fender amp for electric. And Electric it was. The question is, are we ready for this?
Billed as “his Electric Trio,” Thompson was ably backed by drummer Michael Jerome and bass guitarist Taras Prodaniuk, each a master in his own right. Drummer Jerome, celebrating his birthday in Kent, was a delight all evening long, as he slammed, crashed, brushed, twisted and funkified the backbeat every which way: using grace notes, the butt end of the sticks, brushes, off beats, and even coins dropped on the snare head to keep each musical passage inventively pumping with energy.
Out of the box, three smoking tunes from his 2013 album, Electric, put the near-capacity crowd at The Kent Stage on notice that Richard Thompson would be taking no prisoners. Produced by Buddy Miller, who’s worked with Americana legends Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle, Shawn Colvin, Linda Ronstadt and others, the new songs dispense with traditional folk’s stand-up bass and percussion, instead opting for a full-throated, aggressive drive reminiscent of classic trios such as Cream and The Jimi Hendrix Experience. But rather than the blues & soul roots those ensembles emulated, Thompson starts with British Folk, electrifies it, throws in tasteful but smoking guitar solos (into every song!), and doses it with heavy lyrics to keep you musing all night long.
Riding what he called “a power trio that’s not too powerful,” Richard Thompson took a day off between dates as opening act for Bob Dylan’s AmericanaramA tour to headline a 2-hour showcase at The Kent Stage on 7/7/13. While good naturedly complaining that he only gets to play for 30 minutes (about 5 songs) on the festival tour, Thompson periodically throughout the evening in Kent imitated early Dylan, lifting the acoustic guitar to the mic for emphasis. “Now that was folk singing!”
Of course, RT was Americana before that term was hipster, and Avett & Mumford could certainly learn a few things in his presence. While a couple of his albums made Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list, and “Shoot Out The Lights” is considered a genuine masterpiece, he never had a hit record. But now it appears that, if he can hang on long enough, Richard Thompson’s best days may be ahead of him.
In May 2013, he was nominated for 2 Americana Music Association awards (He’s British, people!): Artist of the Year & Song of the Year (for Good Things Happen to Bad People), and his recent records have been charting much higher than at any time in his long and distinguished career. While always a critic’s darling, it seems the record-buying public, or what’s left of them, is finally ready for Richard Thompson. 2010’s “Dream Attic” peaked at #20 in the U.K. and #83 in the U.S., while his new one, “Electric,” reached #16 in Great Britain, and #75 in these United States.
The vaunted Kent Stage acoustics were in fine form, perfectly presenting RT’s songs like diamonds sparkling in a jewel box. The Kent Stage audience was as enthusiastic as they could be, applauding his unbridled guitar solos, offering standing ovations throughout the set, and shouting out requests from Thompson’s long career, some of which he’d play immediately, such as Calvary Cross, even if his accompanists weren’t fully familiar with the material. For the benefit of the fans, and to prove how simple the song was, he spelled out the chords. Maybe it was for the benefit of his band as well?
After an encore accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, Thompson invited his band back on stage for an inspired White Room, the Cream classic. They’ve even been showcasing a version of Hey Joe at recent gigs. So I guess it isn’t that crazy comparing them to some of the most legendary power trios ever.
Thompson and cohorts finished up their final encore with a white-hot Tear Stained Letter from 1983’s “Hand of Kindness,” one of the classics they’ve been featuring on the Dylan tour. In Kent, the song was given free reign, Thompson encouraging the crowd to sing along with the infectious chorus, making one wonder, for the 20th time all night, why some of his greatest songs didn’t become radio classics. I guess we were listening to different stuff in the ’80’s.
Maybe finally we’re ready for some unbridled tastiness.
Review & photos by Thomas Mulready