While Saturday night’s windstorm was battering the city, those inside the Edmonds Center for the Arts were being blown away by the sound and fury of Richard Thompson’s guitar.
Opening with the bitter tale of heartbreak, “When the Spell Is Broken,” all the more haunting with an echo effect, Thompson followed with a punchy version of “Stony Ground” and the wistful “The Ghost of You Walks” before saying hello to a packed house of RT newbies and die-hard fans. He then broke into the rockabilly-esque “Valerie,” which culminated in a rollicking, extended guitar break that defied you to sit still.
His magnetic energy and the strength of his guitar chops belie Thompson’s age. At 65, he is the human form of fine wine. His unique playing style—using a pick and two fingers synchronously—creates such a lush and complex sound, you almost wonder if there’s another guitarist, hidden offstage, accompanying him. And his voice is stronger than ever, with a quality like bitter chocolate: deep, rich and unsweetened.
Showcasing his latest recording, Acoustic Classics, Thompson pulled choice cuts from the CD, which draws from his 40-plus years of making music, first with the seminal British folk-rock band, Fairport Convention, then with his ex-wife, Linda, and throughout a long solo career. Acoustic Classics, conceived to re-create the intimacy of his solo shows (he also plays dynamic electric guitar with his power trio), makes the perfect Thompson sampler for those unfamiliar with his work, and offers enough variation on familiar songs to please longtime followers.
“So this is your idea of entertainment on a Saturday night,” Thompson joked, warming to the audience. He encouraged them to join in on his modern sea shanty, “Johnny’s Far Away,” and introduced “Good Things Happen to Bad People” by mentioning its nomination for 2013 Song of the Year by the Americana Music Association. “I lost,” he deadpanned. “I’m not ashamed.”
Other fan favorites such as “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” and “Wall of Death” shared the set list with less-oft-heard gems like “The Great Valerio,” “Just the Motion,” and Fairport’s “Matty Groves.” Thompson also treated the audience to snippets of his contribution to 14-18-NOW, a UK project commissioning contemporary artists to reflect on the impact of World War I.
As the evening wound down, the requests fired up. Thompson handled them with grace, playing several shouted-out titles before ending with the wry “Read About Love.” Encores of the poignant “Beeswing” and the seldom-played “For Shame of Doing Wrong” preceded the final encore, “Tear-Stained Letter.” Enlisting the audience to fill in, as “the band, once again, has failed to show up,” he directed one section to sing the chorus, another to do the sax riff, and the balcony to be the percussion. The result was pure fun.
Brad Laina and Tayler Lynn, members of Seattle’s Vaudeville Etiquette performing an acoustic duo set, did Thompson proud as his opening act. Laina’s soft voice and Lynn’s bright pipes traded lead vocals and melded into golden harmony on songs that ranged from the dreamy “Oh” to the exuberant “F. Scott,” featuring Lynn playing a wicked kazoo. Which, come to think of it, would’ve filled in handily for the sax riff.
By Lisa Costantino