Richard Thompson mixes recent material with classics at masterful Montclair concert

richard thompson concert review

MICHAEL STAHL, portraitsbymichaelstahl.com

Richard Thompson performs at the Outpost in the Burbs in Montclair, Jan. 14.

Like a lot of people, Richard Thompson has Jeff Beck on his mind. At his Jan. 14 acoustic concert at The Outpost in the Burbs in Montclair, Thompson, before dedicating his song “Walking the Long Miles Home” to Beck, remembered seeing him perform with The Yardbirds at The Marquee Club in London in the mid-’60s. (Beck died on Jan. 10 of bacterial meningitis.)

Thompson was 15 or 16 at the time, he said, and a regular club attendee. “Tuesday night was The Who — not too bad,” he said. “The original Who, I mean. Little club, a quarter the size of this. Just fantastic … Wednesdays was The Spencer Davis Group (with) Steve Winwood, who was my age, like 15 … And Friday nights was The Yardbirds.

“I missed Eric (Clapton) with The Yardbirds; that was a little before my time. But I saw quite a lot of Jeff Beck … very exciting guitar player. There weren’t many people like him at the time, and he pioneered a lot of things.”

By the end of the ’60s, of course, Thompson had made his own mark on the music world as a member of Fairport Convention, the band that, he reminded the Outpost crowd before performing the Fairport Convention song “Genesis Hall,” invented British folk-rock. And now, more than 50 years later, he is — as Beck’s death, sadly, underscores — one of the few major musical figures of that era who is not just still performing, but still at the absolute top of his game.

MICHAEL STAHL, portraitsbymichaelstahl.com

Richard Thompson at the Outpost in the Burbs.

The Outpost show, which sold out, was a benefit for NJArts.net, and we are proud and honored to have played a part in making this exceptional concert happen.

Thompson didn’t just revisit old favorites at the Outpost show, though he did perform songs such as “52 Vincent Black Lightning,” “Beeswing,” “I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight” (“very nearly a hit in the U.K. … it scraped the bottom of the Top 40,” he said) and “Wall of Death.” Nine of the show’s 20 songs were from 2000 or later, and three of those 9 (“Singapore Sadie,” “The Old Pack Mule” “She Was Lost in the Crowd”) are so new they haven’t even been officially released yet.

That is a lot of new or recent material for a veteran performer like Thompson, but the show didn’t suffer from it. Highlights included “If I Could Live My Life Again,” a tense, taut rocker from his 2020 EP Bloody Noses, and “Tinker’s Rhapsody,” an uncharacteristically bright and sunny song from his 2021 EP Serpent’s Tears.

Thompson was joined on the latter by his wife, singer-songwriter Zara Phillips (Thompson moved to Montclair about five years ago to be with her), on backing vocals. Phillips also sang on eight of the concert’s other songs — mostly the newer material, though also two songs, “Wall of Death” and “I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight,” from classic albums by the duo of Richard & Linda Thompson — and helped add some extra depth and richness to the music.

MICHAEL STAHL, portraitsbymichaelstahl.com

Teddy Thompson with Richard Thompson at the Outpost in the Burbs.

Also appearing on two songs, earlier in the set, was the show’s opening act, singer-songwriter Teddy Thompson (the son of Richard and Linda Thompson). Richard and Teddy first dueted on the elegant ballad “Persuasion,” with both men adding soulful vocal flourishes, then had some fun with the rowdy 1960 Eddie Cochran B-side, “Cut Across Shorty.”

Richard Thompson’s other numbers included the sea shanty-style “Johnny’s Far Away” (with enthusiastic singalong accompaniment by the audience), the angrily edgy “Turning of the Tide” and “Keep Your Distance” (featuring Phillips), which, Thompson joked, “should have been a huge hit, the last few years … it’s the very anthem of social distancing.”

The song, of course, is not really about social distancing, but avoiding temptation. “Keep your distance, keep your distance/When I feel you close to me what can I do but fall?/Keep your distance, keep your distance/With us it must be all or none at all,” sang Thompson, with Phillips harmonizing. To call a song like this “dark” doesn’t do it justice; Thompson has a way of delivering a song with a sense of brooding, and dread, that makes him unique.

Not that it was a overly downbeat show. Thompson struck a good balance between his dour songs and more upbeat fare, and made plenty of wry jokes between numbers. And his guitar playing, throughout the show, was mesmerizing in its own right, with an abundance of fast, complex riffs and intricate rhythms.

Each song, it seemed, featured a guitar style unlike that of any other song in the show. And Thompson’s casualness was just as impressive as his dexterity: It’s hard to conceive how a musician can stay so relaxed as his hands are flying around the fretboard so fiercely.

MICHAEL STAHL, portraitsbymichaelstahl.com

Zara Phillips with Richard Thompson at the Outpost in the Burbs.

Here is the show’s setlist, with a video of “If I Could Live My Life Again” under it. For more on Thompson, visit richardthompson-music.com.

“Gethsemane”
“If I Could Live My Life Again”
“Genesis Hall”
“Turning of the Tide”
“Beeswing”
“Persuasion” (with Teddy Thompson)
“Cut Across Shorty” (with Teddy Thompson)
“Johnny’s Far Away”
“Walking on a Wire”
“Walking the Long Miles Home”
“Wall of Death” (with Zara Phillips)
“Singapore Sadie” (with Zara Phillips)
“The Old Pack Mule” (with Zara Phillips)
“The Rattle Within” (with Zara Phillips)
“Word Unspoken, Sight Unseen” (with Zara Phillips)
“Keep Your Distance” (with Zara Phillips)
“I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight” (with Zara Phillips)

First Encore:
“1952 Vincent Black Lightning”

Second Encore:
“Tinker’s Rhapsody” (with Zara Phillips)
“She Was Lost in the Crowd” (with Zara Phillips)

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