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Richard​ ​Thompson​ ​is​ ​coming to Juneau thanks​ ​to​ ​Alaska​ ​Airlines​ ​and​ ​the Juneau​ ​Jazz​ ​and​ ​Classics​ ​Festival.
Richard Thompson coming to town 051717 AE 1 Thomas Kellar, For the Capital City Weekly Richard​ ​Thompson​ ​is​ ​coming to Juneau thanks​ ​to​ ​Alaska​ ​Airlines​ ​and​ ​the Juneau​ ​Jazz​ ​and​ ​Classics​ ​Festival.

Richard Thompson performs during the 2008 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival at the New Orleans Fairgrounds Racetrack in New Orleans, Friday, May 2, 2008. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Story last updated at 5/16/2017 - 4:39 pm

Richard Thompson coming to town

Richard​ ​Thompson​ ​is​ ​coming to Juneau thanks​ ​to​ ​Alaska​ ​Airlines​ ​and​ ​the Juneau​ ​Jazz​ ​and​ ​Classics​ ​Festival. The​ ​great​ ​one​ ​drops​ ​into​ ​our​ ​midst​ ​for​ ​a​ ​May​ ​20​ ​solo​ ​show​ ​at Centennial​ ​Hall​ ​Convention​ ​Center,​ ​a​ ​concert​ ​that​ ​devotees​ ​of​ ​brilliant​ ​songwriting​ ​and​ ​guitar pyrotechnics​ ​should​ ​not​ ​miss.​ ​Trust​ ​me,​ ​don’t​ ​do​ ​it.​ ​The​ ​angst​ ​you’ll​ ​feel​ ​later,​ ​when​ ​friends​ ​and acquaintances​ ​describe​ ​an​ ​evening​ ​spent​ ​in​ ​the​ ​presence​ ​of​ ​Thompson’s​ ​genius,​ ​will​ ​be​ ​hard​ ​to bear.

Offering​ ​no​ ​apologies​ ​for​ ​age,​ ​I​ ​confess​ ​to​ ​having​ ​first​ ​seen​ ​Thompson​ ​and​ ​band​ ​open​ ​a​ ​show for​ ​T-Bone​ ​Burnett​ ​in​ ​Los​ ​Angeles​ ​in​ ​the​ ​early​ ​80s.​ ​I​ ​had​ ​come​ ​to​ ​see​ ​Burnett​ ​in​ ​support​ ​of​ ​his “Trap​ ​Door”​ ​EP​ ​and​ ​as​ ​I​ ​recall,​ ​the​ ​name​ ​of​ ​the​ ​hall​ ​was​ ​The​ ​Palace​ ​or​ ​some-such.​ ​I​ ​had​ ​never heard​ ​Thompson​ ​before​ ​then,​ ​but​ ​knew​ ​something​ ​was​ ​up​ ​when​ ​I​ ​turned​ ​around​ ​during​ ​his band’s​ ​amazing​ ​set​ ​and​ ​spotted​ ​the​ ​late,​ ​great,​ ​guitar​ ​god​ ​Albert​ ​Lee​ ​in​ ​the​ ​crowd​ ​studying Thompson’s​ ​every​ ​arpeggio​ ​as​ ​if​ ​the​ ​fate​ ​of​ ​the​ ​world​ ​depended​ ​on​ ​it.​ ​I​ ​honestly​ ​don’t​ remember much​ ​about​ ​the​ ​headliner’s​ ​performance​ ​that​ ​night;​ ​what​ ​still​ ​reverberates​ ​for​ ​me​ ​is​ ​thinking​ ​of Thompson’s​ ​intense​ ​rendering​ ​of​ ​songs,​ ​along​ ​with​ ​guitar​ ​solos​ ​that​ ​were​ ​jaw-dropping​ ​for​ ​their creativity​ ​and​ ​risk​ ​taking.​ ​Bucketfuls​ ​of​ ​dissonance​ ​and​ ​harmonic​ ​beauty​ ​fused​ ​into​ ​a​ ​spellbinding blend.

A​ ​quick​ ​Richard​ ​Thompson​ ​primer:​ ​In​ ​the​ ​late​ ​60s,​ ​at​ ​the​ ​tender​ ​age​ ​of​ ​18,​ ​Thompson,​ ​the​ ​son​ ​of a​ ​Scotland​ ​Yard​ ​detective,​ ​was​ ​playing​ ​guitar​ ​in​ ​a​ ​British​ ​folk​ ​outfit​ ​called​ ​Fairport​ ​Convention.

Producer​ ​Joe​ ​Boyd​ ​saw​ ​their​ ​act​ ​and​ ​signed​ ​them​ ​to​ ​a​ ​production​ ​deal.​ ​Initially​ ​a​ ​cover​ ​band performing​ ​American​ ​music​ ​including​ ​songs​ ​by​ ​Bob​ ​Dylan​ ​and​ ​Leonard​ ​Cohen,​ ​Thompson​ ​and mates​ ​began​ ​writing​ ​their​ ​own​ ​material.​ ​Thompson’s​ ​earliest​ ​originals​ ​included​ ​instant​ ​classics “Meet​ ​on​ ​the​ ​Ledge”​ ​and​ ​“Sloth.”​ ​The​ ​band​ ​was​ ​credited​ ​for​ ​helping​ ​launch​ ​the​ ​British electric-folk​ ​movement​ ​with​​ ​one​ ​of​ ​the​ ​most​ ​critically​ ​acclaimed​ ​albums​ ​of​ ​1969,​ ​“Liege​ ​and Lief.”

By​ ​1971,​ ​Thompson​ ​had​ ​left​ ​Fairport​ ​Convention​ ​to​ ​follow​ ​his​ ​own​ ​musical-career​ ​path.​ ​His​ ​first album​ ​met​ ​with​ ​lukewarm​ ​reviews,​ ​but​ ​subsequent​ ​releases​ ​including​ ​those​ ​with​ ​former​ ​wife Linda​ ​Thompson,​ ​cemented​ ​his​ ​reputation​ ​as​ ​both​ ​gifted​ ​songwriter​ ​and​ ​instrumentalist.​ ​In​ ​the ensuing​ ​years,​ ​stellar​ ​Thompson​ ​songs​ ​have​ ​included​ ​“Shoot​ ​Out​ ​The​ ​Lights,”​ ​“1952​ Vincent Black​ ​Lightning,”​ ​“Tear​ ​Stained​ ​Letter,”​ ​“I​ ​Misunderstood,”​ ​“When​ ​The​ ​Spell​ ​Is​ ​Broken”​ ​and “Waltzing’s​ ​For​ ​Dreamers.”​ ​His​ ​entire​ ​body​ ​of​ ​work​ ​spans​ ​more​ ​than​ ​40​ ​albums,​ ​numerous Grammy​ ​nominations​ ​and​ ​participation​ ​on​ ​various​ ​soundtracks,​ ​including​ ​Werner​ ​Herzog’s “Grizzly​ ​Man.”

Thompson​ ​has​ ​been​ ​awarded​ ​the​ ​Orville​ ​H.Gibson​ ​Award​ ​for​ ​best​ ​acoustic​ ​guitar​ ​player,​ ​the​ ​Ivor Novello​ ​Award​ ​for​ ​songwriting,​ ​a​ ​lifetime​ ​achievement​ ​award​ ​from​ ​BBC​ ​Radio​ ​and​ ​in​ ​2011​ ​was appointed​ ​Officer​ ​of​ ​the​ ​Order​ ​of​ ​the​ ​British​ ​Empire​ ​(OBE)​ ​for​ ​services​ ​to​ ​music.​ ​The​ ​list​ ​of artists​ ​who​ ​have​ ​recorded​ ​Thompson​ ​tunes​ ​is​ ​impressive​ ​including​ ​Del​ ​McCoury,​ ​R.E.M., Bonnie​ ​Raitt,​ ​David​ ​Gilmour,​ ​Elvis​ ​Costello,​ ​Shawn​ ​Colvin,​ ​Nancy​ ​Griffith,​ ​Los​ ​Lobos,​ ​John​ ​Doe, Greg​ ​Brown,​ ​Bob​ ​Mould,​ ​David​ ​Byrne​ ​and​ ​The​ ​Blind​ ​Boys​ ​of​ ​Alabama.

When​ ​Rolling​ ​Stone​ ​Magazine​ ​released​ ​its​ ​list​ ​of​ ​the​ ​greatest​ ​100​ ​Guitar​ ​Players​ ​of​ ​All​ ​Time, Thompson​ ​was​ ​19th.​ ​It​ ​could​ ​easily​ ​be​ ​argued​ ​he​ ​should​ ​have​ ​been​ ​ranked​ ​even​ ​higher, belonging​ ​on​ ​the​ ​same​ ​mountain​ ​top​ ​as​ ​the​ ​likes​ ​of​ ​Eric​ ​Clapton,​ ​BB​ ​King​ ​and​ ​Jimi​ ​Hendrix.

Since​ ​my​ ​initial​ ​LA​ ​encounter,​ ​I’ve​ ​seen​ ​Thompson​ ​at​ ​least​ ​once​ ​every​ ​decade,​ ​sometimes​ ​with full​ ​band,​ ​sometimes​ ​with​ ​one​ ​or​ ​two​ ​backing​ ​musicians​ ​and​ ​most​ ​often​ ​alone.​ ​Unlike​ ​any​ ​other musician​ ​I​ ​can​ ​think​ ​of,​ ​it’s​ ​the​ ​solo​ ​shows​ ​I’ve​ ​enjoyed​ ​the​ ​most.​ ​In​ ​a​ ​group​ ​setting,​ ​he​ ​is conscientious​ ​to​ ​a​ ​fault​ ​about​ ​not​ ​stepping​ ​on​ ​any​ ​of​ ​the​ ​other​ ​musicians’​ ​chops,​ ​at​ ​times obscured​ ​when​ ​he​ ​plays​ ​a​ ​supporting​ ​role,​ ​but​ ​alone,​ ​the​ ​range​ ​of​ ​his​ ​talent​ ​is​ ​on​ ​full​ ​display.

Thompson​ ​live​ ​is​ ​akin​ ​to​ ​watching​ ​a​ ​world-class​ ​magician​ ​perform​ ​sleight​ ​of​ ​hand.​ ​I​ ​always​ ​find myself​ ​wondering​ ​how​ ​does​ ​he​ ​do​ ​it?​ ​How​ ​can​ ​one​ ​man​ ​sound​ ​like​ ​three​ ​persons​ ​playing?

Where​ ​are​ ​the​ ​extra​ ​hands?​ ​The​ ​notes​ ​he​ ​wrestles​ ​from​ ​his​ ​six-string​ ​are​ ​at​ ​once​ ​mysterious, unpredictable.​ ​In​ ​Houdini-like​ ​fashion,​ ​it’s​ ​typical​ ​for​ ​Thompson​ ​to​ ​begin​ ​a​ ​solo​ ​quickly​ ​evolving into​ ​phrasing​ ​that​ ​is​ ​hard​ ​to​ ​anticipate​ ​or​ ​describe.​ ​Just​ ​when​ ​it​ ​feels​ ​like​ ​he’s​ ​reached​ ​a​ ​point​ ​of no​ ​return,​ ​he’ll​ ​resolve​ ​the​ ​solo​ ​beautifully​ ​back​ ​into​ ​the​ ​chord​ ​structure​ ​of​ ​the​ ​song,​ ​escaping​ ​the self-imposed​ ​chaos​ ​that​ ​threatened​ ​to​ ​drown​ ​the​ ​tune.

Eschewing​ ​all​ ​things​ ​formulaic,​ ​he​ ​never​ ​descends​ ​into​ ​minor-scale​ ​meandering,​ ​rather​ ​turns every​ ​stage​ ​he​ ​graces​ ​into​ ​a​ ​cliche’-free​ ​zone.​ ​One​ ​of​ ​my​ ​favorite​ ​Thompson​ ​quotes:​ ​“​I’m​ ​glad there​ ​are​ ​a​ ​lot​ ​of​ ​guitar​ ​players​ ​pursuing​ ​technique​ ​as​ ​diligently​ ​as​ ​they​ ​possibly​ ​can,​ ​because​ ​it leaves​ ​this​ ​whole​ ​other​ ​area​ ​open​ ​to​ ​people​ ​like​ ​me.”

Every​ ​time​ ​I’ve​ ​seen​ ​him,​ ​there​ ​has​ ​been​ ​that​ ​transcendent​ ​moment​ ​during​ ​a​ ​Richard​ ​Thompson performance​ ​when​ ​the​ ​gulf​ ​between​ ​performer​ ​and​ ​audience​ ​ceases​ ​to​ ​exist.​ ​The​ ​idea​ ​of​ ​pop music​ ​as​ ​just​ ​entertainment​ ​ceases​ ​to​ ​exist,​ ​when​ ​Thompson’s​ ​immense​ ​talent​ ​transports​ ​all within​ ​earshot​ ​to​ ​a​ ​place​ ​that​ ​feels​ ​both​ ​sacred​ ​and​ ​universal.​ ​Come​ ​Saturday,​ ​it​ ​will​ ​be​ ​Juneau’s chance​ ​to​ ​fall​ ​under​ ​Thompson’s​ ​spell.​ ​You​ ​and​ ​I​ ​will​ ​do​ ​well​ ​to​ ​be​ ​there.

Thomas Kellar is a freelance writer living in Juneau.