Richard Thompson played live at Birdy's in Indianapolis on February 19, 2004.

First, you need to understand that Richard Thompson is the guitar playingest sumbitch walking the Earth today.

Thus, a band would be about halfway superfluous. He can and does play a couple or three parts at a time as needed. He played Birdy's as he has three of the four times I've seen him: solo acoustic. One microphone, acoustic guitar. If you've got the songs and the playing prowess, that's all you need. Bono talks about "three chords and the truth." I don't know about that, but Thompson has vision and skills.

You could tell that up front from "Cooksferry Queen." He can play that rockabilly stuff ten times better than Scotty Moore's inspired but crude stylings. He's got skill and imagination- and a better song than any but maybe a couple of Elvis' Sun classics. OK, he's not quite ELVIS, but he's good. The vibrant joy of the song just shone through.

For the serious moods of much of his material, he likes to balance by fun-ing with the audience, teasing us a bit. There were no seats, other than a few out of sight in the back of the balcony. Thus, he noted that he found it amusing to see a packed bar full of middle aged people standing up all night to listen to acoustic music.

That's alright, though, cause he promised us something to get our "toes tapping" - then plays "Outside of the Inside." This would be his "Taliban's eye view of the West," a thick and somber song even by his standards. Then I looked down about halfway through, and damned if my toe wasn't tapping. Even an ascetic ballad played solo acoustic had a strong rhythmic interplay.

As a longtime Muslim, Thompson has a unique perspective on the world situation and Western culture. He understands Islam and fundamentalist thinking enough to write an insightful dissection like "Outside of the Inside." Yet he has his own little perch as part of Western popular culture. This gives him a little different outlook from most entertainers, and from most Muslims.

Best I can tell, he's developed his own little sub genre of topical comedy songs, largely as a genteel way of making conservative religious criticism of the decadence of the culture. He seems to have a number of perfectly good original songs, but lighthearted, tied to pop culture stories, and apparently not intended for commercial release. In 2002, he had a song about Madonna's wedding, for example.

In this case, he immediately followed the bleakness of "Outside of the Inside" with a bouncy little singalong about Janet Jackson. My best guest is that the title would be "That's What They're There For." The key line of the chorus goes, "If you shove your titty in someone's face, shove it in a baby's." It's a gentle mockery, though, in which he hoped she was blessed with a dozen children to feed from her mighty bosom- though he does prudently recommend that she avoid sending them for overnights at Neverland.

Of course, "1952 Vincent Black Lightning" provided a dependable high point of drama, picking and romance. The audience seemed set on hearing "Beeswing," which he happily obliged in encore. Can't go wrong with the bitter fury of "Crawl Back." [Dang, but Mock Tudor is a great record.] Never did get any "Shoot Out the Lights," though.

I was particularly pleased to hear "I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight." Still waiting to hear him do "Psycho Street" live. Dream on.

I did get to as much as literally touch the hem of his garment as he was leaving the stage- though I fear that he thought me a freak for saying aloud "I touched the hem of his garment; I know I will be made whole right now."


Richard Thompson is all smiles


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Richard Thompson

Music Sustains the Soul

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