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Richard Thompson band, Colston Hall, Jan 22

January 25, 2011

This tour has been getting mostly laudatory reviews – and I can see why. The band is superb, the leader’s guitar playing brilliantly inventive, the show well paced. Despite listening to Thompson in one setting or another since around 1969 (thanks to an elder brother with good taste: cheers, David) this was a first hearing of him live. And I’m glad we went. Good to see him, and to see that he now commands such a large audience.

Still, a few reservations, in the face of the almost unanimous good opinions. The first half was devoted to the new album, Dream Attic. Like most Thompson albums this has a few great songs, some good ones, and a few which are distinctly so-so. Live rendition confirmed that A Brother Slips Away is class of the set, others not quite up to that (high) standard. The voice, with its odd mid-Atlantic inflection, comes across better live than recorded, though.

More of a problem was the RRRRRock amplification. This meant too loud, and muddy sound in the first set – as often at Colston. A shame, as it means you can’t really hear the words, and it certainly destroys any charm in Pete Zorn’s soprano saxophone, great musician though he is. The knob-twiddlers took the edge off the volume in the second set, which was much easier to appreciate. Good for them, as it featured a selection of old material which was better, on aggregate, than the newest songs. Al Bowly’s in Heaven was the standout for us, perhaps tellingly the only time Thompson laid down his electric guitar for an acoustic one.

The second half, though, still had the irritation of a light show apparently conceived by a four year old with ADHD. Although LondonJazz’s reviewer thought this was “cool”, it was hard to see why from the Colston balcony. This flashy (literally) accompaniment, and the pointless backdrop visuals added nothing, and just seemed a half-assed effort which was there because they had the stuff on the truck. Really, why bother?  No more rock shows this year, I think. Glad to have seen this one, on balance, but it brought home why this blog bears its title!

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