Thursday, July 11, 2013

Richard Thompson Electric Trio Concert

Richard Thompson flashed his impish Scottish smile and leaned across the buffet to hand me an icy bottled water. There was no air movement in the tiny green room of the Kent Stage Theater but the atmosphere was electric. Through no rhyme or reason I was aware of, my date and I were selected to “meet and greet” Richard after the concert.

The concert started half an hour behind schedule due to an issue printing tickets at the front desk. The man I just met and was on a first date with, Vern, had purchased our seats far ahead of time and we were mysteriously upgraded to the second row, center, on the aisle. Our chairs were less than eight feet from the stage’s edge. We chattered about how great the seats were, how great Richard Thompson was, and how much fun the evening was turning out to be.

The heat was stifling. It eventually approached the upper nineties. The air was dead motionless. If I closed my eyes, I imagined being smothered in an oven. I stopped closing my eyes. Sipping from a cup of ice water I got from the refreshment counter provided a semblance of relief.

There was no warm-up band. Stage Manager Bobby Eichorn came out, plugged a cord into Richard’s red Stratocaster which rested upright on a stand mid-stage, and he walked off stage right. A tall hairless black man clad in a white shirt and black tie and slacks, wearing nice shoes, strode briskly onto stage from stage left, and climbed onto the drum stand.

At the same time, a lanky what I think of as a “tall drink of water” cowboy-built fellow with glasses and riotously curly hair, wearing a white shirt and black slacks -- and I don’t know, he may have been wearing boots – took what seemed to be two long strides, and picked up his bass.

Before I realized it, Richard floated onto stage. He literally did not seem to make contact with the boards.

The crowd applauded. He looked up and smiled. “What an endearing man,” I thought. He was as genuine and unaffected onstage as he was in the interviews I’ve watched. I was so happy to be there in his presence, to have the opportunity to witness such a consummate performer, a genius masterful guitarist and songwriter, not a dozen feet away. I leaned over and bumped against Vern. This was exciting stuff, and I was so happy he’d invited me along.

The band launched into “Stuck on the Treadmill” and I was blown away. The drummer Michael Jerome was forceful and adept, instilled seemingly effortless energy into the skins. I spied a tiny piece of drumstick fly off into space with his second stroke. I felt as though he caught my eye dozens of times, then reminded myself it is nearly impossible to see people from the stage. Still, I felt a real connection with Michael.

Bassist Taras Prodabiuk was quirky and slinky and moved without regard to human body limitations. Where he wanted his limbs to go, they went. He dipped, he swung, his head nodded, his arms rolled, his fingers strummed without apparent effort as if they were separate distinct beings merely riding the ends of his hands. It was hard to take my eyes off the bass, but I had to.

Richard’s fingers were a blur. Sound reverberated in my chest. The energy level in the room picked up immediately. I was able to focus; even the heat didn’t feel as oppressive. I began to clearly see each individual digit on Thompson’s hand work the strings. I was mesmerized. He has a confident, comfortable presence. Despite the approximate eight-pound Stratocaster, he stood ramrod straight without a hint of stiffness. RT is a man very much at ease with his own physicality.

He made small talk and entertained between each song. He referred to opening for Bob Dylan, and being honored at the Americana Awards. This year, Richard is nominated for both Artist of the Year as well as Song of the Year. Last year, he won the 2012 Americana Music Association Achievement for Songwriting. He joked that he wasn't even American.

At one point, Richard asked for requests. I know he has recorded for four decades, and the odds of my favorite “Beeswing” being sung were slim to none. Still, I called out in my “Mommy” voice, projecting as if I needed those babies home, and needed them home right now. RT looked directly where I sat as I called it out. I knew he’d heard me.

The interplay between performers was wonderful. I loved watching them grin and mug with one another. Men who respect and enjoy each others’ company tend to slip into a loose dance at certain times. Some call it flow. It is a special creative atmosphere. Those of us present Sunday night in Kent were witness to such a dance.

It is impossible to capture, either with a camera or a pen. You just know it when you see it. It is sexy, and ornery, unaffected and magical. Taras advanced, Michael juked, neither missing a beat. Richard observed, amused, and wove his own playfulness in. The interaction, totally unchoreographed, was loose and so natural as to suggest that, for a little over two hours, a veil was withdrawn and the audience permitted to observe gods frolicking in their heavens.

Stage manager Bobby Eichorn slipped onto stage a couple of times and plugged or adjusted a cord on Richard’s Stratocaster. At one point, RT made a comment asking audience members to please refrain from coming onstage and touching his guitar. His humor connected well; every sentence he uttered elicited titters and appreciative murmurs.

Ironically, I needed Vern to help me out to the lobby as “Never Give It Up” played. By this point, I was so overcome by the heat that I struggled to maintain consciousness. Drawing breath into my lungs felt impossible; I was smothered and nauseous and dizzy. I couldn’t even hold my head up to watch the show, much less nod or tap my feet or participate in any way other than the pray to God I didn’t faint and cause a commotion.

In the lobby, I drank more ice water. The management was great. A very kind volunteer whose name I lacked the presence of mind to learn kept me supplied with refills and brought napkins as well as a lid for my cup in case I wanted to take it back inside.

I confess I did grouse at a manager a bit after he offered as explanation for the extreme heat: “This happens when a lot of people come in; their body heat raises the room temperature.” I pointed out that that is a theater, people are going to come in and their body heat is going to raise the temperature; that this was not news.

But you will forgive me my moment of ungraciousness; I had rented a vehicle and driven 270 miles to see this concert, and I had been exiled to the lobby rather than getting to enjoy my wonderful seating and sit with my date because of the horrific heat.

The band finished their set and I resigned myself to having experienced what I was going to experience. Then applause filled the theater as Richard and the guys returned for the first of two encores.

 Immediately, he launched into “Beeswing.”

I decided even if I keeled over on the way down the aisle, I was going to do my dead level best to get back to my seat. I made it before the second verse. Refreshed if not totally revived, I was able to nod and smile and appreciate my favorite song being performed right before me, almost as a special request, by the man who wrote and sang and played it.

It was wonderful.

Richard played “Snow Goose” (If I recall correctly) after that, then came back and did a few more songs before wrapping up. Thompson and his crew pulled off the most rollicking version of “White Room” I’ve ever heard. Truly, Cream could only hope to nod in appreciation. It was fantastic.

The concert was over, but the fun had just begun. I still hadn’t met Richard yet.


Ariel Bender said...

Ginger - nice post! I was there but only drove 120 miles one way. Totally worth it.

BTW, the other song he played during his acoustic encore was "1952 Vincent Black Lightning". Getting to hear those two classics back-to-back and live was a rare and memorable treat!

Ginger said...

Thanks, Ariel!

I appreciate the correction. I was honestly so out of it, I'm surprised I was able to write about the evening at all.

It was such a great concert though! I agree wholeheartedly; RT performing classics with such love was a rare and memorable treat!


Vern Morrison said...

Ariel Bender! I suspect you're not the same Ariel Bender who played on "The Hoople," but if you are: nice work.