Richard Thompson at the Pabst Theater
Richard Thompson has four decades of original songs—and, as he demonstrated on another recent tour visit to Milwaukee, 1,000 years of standards—to draw upon, but Thursday at the Pabst Theater he kept his attention focused squarely on the present. Unlike practically every other singer-songwriter of his age and stature, Thompson has the artistic courage to put his newest material front and center, which he did by boldly devoting the entirety of his lengthy first set to performing songs from this year’s Dream Attic. Only Bob Dylan and Neil Young would have the chutzpah to try to pull off nearly 80 minutes of new songs before playing any oldies.
It helps that Dream Attic is yet another strong entry in a celebrated, but still criminally underrated, discography. Thompson’s newest songs don’t deviate too much from his usual formula—they’re often dour, occasionally sardonic (particularly the album-opening Wall Street satire “The Money Shuffle,” which also opened the show), and leavened with just enough sweetness to make the sour stuff palatable.
Dream Attic is essentially a live record of original material, and the road-tested songs lent themselves to numerous awe-inspiring guitar workouts, most memorably on the murder ballad “Sidney Wells,” which began as an English folk number before Thompson melted it down with several minutes of dazzlingly overheated soloing. “Crimescene” and the captivating “If Love Whispers Your Name,” similarly, were first-rate examples of the casually brilliant musicianship of Thompson and his razor-sharp, four-piece band. While Thompson was mostly in hard-charging, guitar-god mode, his band was also capable of coaxing out the tortured beauty of the atmospheric “Among The Gorse, Among The Grey,” which provided an early moment of dreamy respite before the band tore off into the jaunty “Haul Me Up.”
After playing every Dream Attic song, Thompson took a break before launching into a set of greatest hits, highlighted be an overwhelming “Can’t Win” and a jangly take of “Wall Of Death,” which lead up to a climactic version of “Tear Stained Letter” that brought the house down.