sat 16/01/2021

Teddy Thompson, Queen's Hall, Edinburgh | reviews, news & interviews

Teddy Thompson, Queen's Hall, Edinburgh

Teddy Thompson, Queen's Hall, Edinburgh

Downbeat but superior country-tinged rock

When the spotlight caught Teddy Thompson in profile last night it seemed to capture the physiology of an old-school country icon: tall and lean, his pale, angular face appeared all the more classically archetypal jutting out from his jet-black clothes. He certainly looked the part. By the end he had proved – to a degree far beyond any evidence presented on his recorded work - that he could sing it, too.

This concert proved that if the son of Richard and Linda Thompson has inherited anything at all from his parents it is his father’s sense of crafted professionalism and his mother’s vocal clarity and power. The English-born adopted New Yorker possesses the pipes of some eternally lonesome cowboy last heard hymning on the Louisiana Hayride back when Elvis was in the army. His voice was a thing of rare wonder, which transformed even rather run-of-the-mill material – much of it from his forthcoming album Bella – into something more elevated and defined.

Most of his tunes come from the venerable old publishing house of Hummit & Catchy

Thompson opened the concert, one of the first of his current UK tour, with a five-song mini-set featuring only him and his acoustic guitar, and such was its power and intensity I could have listened to him play this way all night. It was fitting that the song he dedicated to his mother - a wry, crab-like puzzle called “Home” - provided perhaps the most sustained vocal tour de force, in which his rich tenor climbed to a beautifully controlled falsetto.

The entrance of his four-piece backing band was not, however, the anticlimax it might have been, and not just because it included David Ford on keyboards and additional guitar; prior to the main event, Ford, a gifted artist in his own right, had played a blinding 30-minute opening set full of passion, tenderness and technological wizardry, fashioning the sound of a full band from a series of self-played loops before ending with “Song for the Road”, which may well have been the song of the night.

Ford’s double shift was an unexpected delight but the whole band were excellent. Bella, Thompson's fifth album, seems at first glance a little too much like a reprise of his last, 2008's A Piece of What You Need, but its contents fared far better in a live context. The band's energy revealed "Delilah” to be a wonderful, shamelessly corny slice of Van Morrison-style country-soul, while the title track of his best album, Separate Ways, was performed with brooding magnificence. Another new song, “Over and Over”, became an atmospheric centrepiece, Thompson mining new depths of emotional self-sabotage on lines such as, “Some time ago I came up with a plan/ Shit on myself so that no one else can”.

Teddy_Thompson2His glass-half-empty worldview was most evident in the sentiments of “The One I Can’t Have”, but even at his most lightweight - on almost-hit “In My Arms” and new single “Looking For a Girl” – Thompson smuggled arsenic into what would otherwise be sheer bubblegum. He got away with doling out such liberal measures of despondency by undercutting the songs' sentiments with a self-deprecating stage presence. In between shots of rigorous abasement he played the self-effacing Englishman to witty effect, rambling about goats, lost shirts and the potentially unflattering effects of wearing a white guitar: "Do I look fat in this?"

His other trump card was the fact that most of his tunes come from the venerable old publishing house of Hummit & Catchy. Thompson sticks his flag in the borderland where early rock and roll and country meets Fifties pop; there's nothing difficult about what he does. “Tell Me What You Want”, a duet with fiddle player Jenni Muldaur, was a spot-on cocktail of the Everly Brothers, Roy Orbison and Buddy Holly. “Can’t Sing Straight” was Sun-era Elvis with the raging DTs.

If this was largely old-fashioned stuff, so was the show. No frills, just 100 minutes of unfailingly well-crafted and sometimes superb songs played straight and sung divinely. The encore seemed to act as a summation of Thompson’s interests: a bewitching solo version of Kitty Well’s 1957 hit “Change of Heart”, which he recorded on his fine country covers album Up Front and Down Low, followed by a lilting version of Leonard Cohen’s “Tonight Will be Fine”. The real treat was a playful acoustic tilt at ABBA’s “Super Trouper”, strummed mournfully by Thompson as his band congregated around a pair of mics to sing backing vocals and generally horse around. Thompson laughed right along but, as ever, something in his voice seemed to be telling a very different story.

Watch Teddy Thompson perform "Change of Heart" on David Letterman

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