When the night is like no other and the room is ringing in his ears, unlikely rock hero rides out to see the glory.
This artist always seemed a reluctant solo star: he didn’t tour “Henry The Human Fly” after leaving FAIRPORTS, and wouldn’t want to go it alone later on, but there was something that drove the guitarist to try such an experience even before his last trek with wife Linda. With that arrangement, and their marriage, over and done, Richard’s penchant for facing the public grew immensely, Thompson beginning to deliver the goods on a toned-down but somehow grandiose scale, and popular German TV programme “Rockpalast” managed to preserve for posterity two of the Englishman’s shows. Recorded only six weeks apart, yet very different mood-wise, both are presented here on two DVDs and three CDs to create one nigh on immaculate package.
For all the fantastic music he conjured through the years, Richard has never been known for his flash; which is why pink T-shirt Thompson’s wearing for the earlier gig sends an interesting signal to the audience, and perhaps, the merry reggae of “The Wrong Heartbeat” wasn’t what the listeners expected as a kick-off of his live performances. Still, the ensemble’s clowning aside, it’s a great mood-setter alerting fans to the fact that the veteran is up for challenging any preconception there is about the variety of his span. “Back Street Slide” dips in tradition deeper than any other number on display, the group getting serious in their reel around this piece’s riff, but here’s a lot of styles offered, even though the septet concentrated on the material from their leader’s latest LPs and changed on stage to bring out the feelings in those.
The 1983 show is very loose and rather relaxed which contributes to the sparse, if punchy, drama of “Hand Of Kindness” and the infectious fun of “Tear-Stained Letter” where the group members engage in a little rockabilly hoedown and take turns in adding their bits to the overall folk fun, while the concert from 1984 is tense, nervous and less inspired. Maybe that’s because the former performance, from Hamburg, involves Dave Mattacks, Dave Pegg and Simon Nicol – basically, an expanded “Full House” band – whereas the latter one, the same set played in Cannes to a much bigger audience and captured in a much better quality, lacks the tight camaraderie, despite the effusive presence of a future Fairporter, Gerry Conway.
These differences notwithstanding, in new circumstances “Shoot Out The Lights” became heavy and foreboding, its dread almost palpable, what with Thompson scratching the strings and strangling the fretboard for an eerie effect as the camera catches every nuance of his technique. He’s milking “Man In Need” – which, thanks to Alan Dunn’s accordion, pushed its tango core to the fore – for every emotional note, pitching a peal-like, twangy solo into “A Poisoned Heart And A Twisted Memory” to make it sting, and leaving the finale of “Two Left Feet” to pick up the vigor and dance the night away.
The delicate lace and immense warmth behind “Night Comes In” came forward, too, the artist’s stark simplicity rendering the piece special: Richard reigns over its swelling dynamics with his eyes closed, as sax players open an increasingly unpredictable dimension to this epic. As if to counterbalance this, swing-era gem “Pennsylvania 6-5000” is a comical routine that has the band crouching and frog-leaping – without ever stopping the tune, of course – and there’s also the jangly, life-affirming filigree on “Wall Of Death” and the gravy-like “How I Wanted To” blues. More so, the first concert has encores, interspersed with backstage scenes, and those are worth the price of admission alone. To the crowd’s further delight, the group unleash a hilariously deadpan rendition of “Both Ends Burning” before heavenly vocal harmonies that lead into “Danny Boy” get blown away by the sped-up take on this perennial, Richard swinging his hips and attempting a duck walk, while a folkified versions of a couple of Jerry Lee Lewis’ numbers keep the punters – who called the ensemble back for a couple more rounds – on their feet.
Whether it’s two left feet is debatable; the dexterity of these documents leaves no doubt.