For my birthday this year, Elisa bought me tickets to the opening night of ‘Loud and Rich,’ a multi-city concert tour pairing Loudon Wainwright II with Richard Thompson. It was my first time seeing Loudon Wainwright, so I didn’t really have any particular expectations, although I always look forward to seeing someone in concert that I haven’t seen before. I’ve seen Richard Thompson once before, around the time Rumor and Sigh was released, and I was looking forward to seeing him again.
The venue was the Lebanon Opera House in Lebanon, New Hampshire. While I’d never been there before, mostly because it is almost a two-hour drive from my home, I hope to go there again–it’s a very nice venue for music, with a mostly attentive audience, very nice seating, and a beautiful sound system.
Loudon opened the show and seemed to be in fine form. Several of the songs he introduced as “songs for the new depression,” including the opening tune, Times is Hard. He followed the opener with Heaven, a song celebrating the expected debaucheries awaiting us in the afterlife. After that he turned a bit more serious with a trio of songs, highlighted by Half Fist, a song written about his grandfather and his father. Then it was back to one of the “new depression” tunes, the humorous and very topical Cash for Clunkers.
His recent double album, High, Wide & Handsome, celebrating the life of early twentieth century musician Charlie Poole, was represented by a pair of songs. The first, Old Ballyhoo, was a tune penned by Dick Connette, Wainwright’s collaborator on the album; and the second was a Charlie Poole song.
After that Loudon put down the guitar and sat down at a battered piano to play Here’s Another Song in C, a poignant piece about family disintegration. Then it was back to the guitar to play So Damn Happy, followed by what was, for me, the highlight of Loudon’s portion of the evening, Durango, which chronicles his misadventures with an airline worker in Durango, Texas who recently damaged his primary “road axe,” a Martin D-28. The D-28 has since been repaired and was back in Loudon’s hands, but you can watch a great clip of Wainwright playing this song on a back-up guitar on youtube. After a run through White Winos Richard Thompson joined him on stage for a pair of tunes, singing harmony and providing some extremely tasty fills on guitar. Loudon finished off his set with The Swimming Song, changing things up on the fly as it was a shout-out request from the audience, and then he did a one-song encore Middle of the Night, which was my wife Elisa’s favorite song from Loudon’s set.
During the intermission they raffled off–to some bastard that was not me–an Alvarez MD95 guitar (signed by both artists) that was donated by Blue Mountain Guitar. Once the intermission was over, Richard came out for his set. On the first two songs, which included Down Where the Drunkards Roll, he was accompanied by Wainwright. It was an absolute joy to watch Thompson, truly one of the world’s finest guitarists, play in such a small venue. The awesome front-row seats Elisa scored for the show weren’t bad either. Thompson’s guitar work is a revelation. He plays an acoustic, single-cutaway Lowden guitar, primarily using a hybrid fingerstyle technique where he holds a flatpick between his thumb and forefinger while fingerpicking with his middle and ring fingers. Believe me, he can coax out pretty much any sound he wants, from delicate finger-picking runs to what can only be termed a big fat wall of sound.
Alone on the stage now, Richard began with Cooksferry Queen, Time is Going to Break You, and King of Bohemia. He then spoke for a bit about his desire to write a modern sea shanty, perhaps about cruise ships, and then gave us the result, a song about a member of a Celtic band on a cruise ship who is cheating on his wife while at sea, whilst at the same time his wife is cheating on him back home. Thompson followed that one up with great renditions of I crawl Back Under My Stone and The Sunset Song, and then came the highlight of the evening, 52 Vincent Black Lightning. During the guitar instrumentals between each verse, Thompson, while staying true to the song, nevertheless managed to make it new and different, including sections of finger-picking that featured several jangling, dissonant runs that worked effectively as tension builders. The set was finished off with Keep Your Distance, Persuasion and Dad’s Going to Kill Me, an anti-Iraq war song. The ‘dad’ in the title of the last song refers to Baghdad. As his encore, Richard wrapped things up with One Door Opens.
Thompson’s singing was strong as always, and his guitar playing was spot on. And Loudon Wainwright? What can I say … I cannot believe that I waited until 2009 to finally see him live. The two musicians complemented each other well, and it was nice to be able to see them play together part of the time. All in all, a perfect evening.
After the concert I spoke briefly with Nancy Nutile-McMenemy, the professional photographer that was photographing the concert. She was kind enough to allow me to use her photographs in my blog–I cannot thank her enough letting me use them, they are fabulous! Nancy has additional photographs of this concert at www.photosbynanci.com/loudrich.html. To see more of Nancy’s great work, featuring concert photographs, underwater photography and portraits, visit Nancy’s website at www.photosbynanci.com.
The Loud and Rich Tour
Featuring Loudon Wainwright and Richard Thompson
7:30 pm, October 2, 2009
The Lebanon Opera House
51 North Park Street
Lebanon, New Hampshire