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Show review: Richard Thompson and Jim Kweskin, McCabe’s Guitar Shop, Santa Monica, CA

Richard Thompson
Jim Kweskin
May 27, 2011
McCabe’s Guitar Shop
Santa Monica, CA

This was the second of two shows at McCabe’s by Richard Thompson to raise money for a Japanese earthquake relief fund. It’s rare for him to perform in such intimate a venue, so it was no surprise that the 150 tickets sold out in seven minutes despite the $65 price tag.

Billed as a “special guest,” Jim Kweskin was, well, Jim Kweskin, playing a short 30 minute set of songs from the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s that at times were as much a lecture as a performance. He’s entertaining in in his own way, but this setting didn’t do him justice.

After a short break, Thompson came out to loud cheering and opened with two mid-tempo songs from the early 1990s, “Bathsheba Smiles” and “Ghosts of You” before rocking things up with “Drinking Wine Spo-Dee-Dee” from 1000 Years of Popular Song. Thompson was his usual self-effacing self, with little jokes and asides (like talking about listening to Jim Kweskin as a kid in England), all smiles and charm. A couple of newer songs followed, including a biting version of “The Money Shuffle,” a song which probably works better in a band setting.

Thompson then talked about his days in a “beat-combo,” otherwise known as Fairport Convention and about Sandy Denny and how unappreciated of a songwriter she was. He then pulled a shocker by performing a lovely version of “Who Knows Where The Time Goes.”

Next up was “1952 Vincent Black Lighting,” easily the best song he’s written in the last 20 years, followed by a new unrecorded song that was a total clunker, clichéd and by the numbers, the type of song he writes all too often these days. (Quick, name one song from his last four solo recording that’s half as good as “Vincent Black Lighting.”) It was back to the 1990s again (the theme of the evening) for “Uninhabited Man” from Mock Tutor and his sea shanty song tied to an amusing interlude about him performing on a folk music cruise ship, a sure sign, he said, that he’s getting old. Next was a dip into the back catalog with “Dimming of the Day,” one of his all-time classics, followed by a more recent song, “One Door Opens.” The evening finished up with two from Rumor and Sigh “I Misunderstood” and “I Feel So Good,” an up-tempo rocker that always gets the crowd going.

It was the encore that made this night truly unique as Thompson was joined by his son Jack, playing a left handed acoustic bass guitar. The first song was a Fairport obscurity “Poor Will and The Jolly Hangman,” with its complex interplay and odd sense of timing that the two pulled off fairly well. It was followed by another rarely performed song, “The Backstreet Slide,” that again allowed the two to stretch out a bit. The gentle “If Love Whispers Your Name” brought the evening to a suitable close and left the audience happy that they had the chance to experience such a special evening.

—Jim Lee (Simi Valley, CA)

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