Friday, 25 February 2011

Hurricane in Bridport

Teddy Thompson - Live at the Electric Palace, Bridpot, 24th February, 2011 [this review was written soon after the gig but I have only just been able to post]

Bridport's Electric Palace survived Teddy Thompson's power surge tonight as he gave a lightning strike final concert performance on his UK Bella tour. I write this still fully charged from my plug-in at one of the best gigs I’ve ever seen. The reason is simple: Thompson played solo, and it will be hard to continue this review without seeming to use hyperbole to describe a hurricane.

Part of the sparking impact was created by Thompson's apparent edginess at the start. He was in a witty but caustic mood, implying the tour hadn't been as successful as hoped and threatening just to quip rather than sing. A bragging reference to his wealth could have alienated a paying audience, and it was an uncertain, hesitant start that had me seriously doubting his will to continue.

But the show did go on, gaining momentum as he performed an impressive repertoire, beginning with two numbers from Bella - his first ‘The One I Can’t Have’, establishing also the power of his guitar playing - and a moment of subsequent banter with a plumber in the balcony appeared to fully kick-start our evening. The audience was getting more involved too, though my sense is that for many this was a good-night-out in genteel Bridport rather than a fan's following. I sensed this because I seemed to be the only one who noticed his arrival – an apparently anonymous figure casually walking down the aisle to the stage door, and when he again entered the hall during David Ford's excellent opening support.

The show wasn’t dominated at the start by Bella numbers – an obvious promotion - and I do wonder if this was in response to any disaffection at earlier shows on the tour or simply an original plan. The set list also had a spontaneous feel, but if so it was intuitively sharp, and perfectly mixed what I would regard as his ‘hits’ with the new material from his latest album. I highlight ‘hits’ because again I sensed a lack of familiarity with his material in much of the audience, and at one stage I felt I was the only person applauding the ‘obvious’ beginning to a song [but I'll wager this concert will have produced a significant clutch of new and committed fans by the end].

Appropriately, his singing throughout was beautiful. Ballads were played with finessed guitar and resonating vocals whilst livelier numbers had Teddy strumming the amped guitar with rhythmic punch as well as occasional lead – his singing always filling the quaint hall with pitch-perfect and pulsating voice. Interestingly, in my initial review of Bella I was apologetic for appearing to be negative overall, certainly expressing a slight but sustained criticism of the over-production, especially use of strings. Hearing these numbers stripped to the pure songwriting and quintessence of performance I knew I would want to retract that apology and I do so now! I acknowledged then how such production was understandable in attempting to broaden Thompson’s audience – the solo singer/songwriter historically having critical but not popular appeal - but this performance was for me as good as it gets and it was a genuine privilege to hear. ‘Separate Ways’ was a rendition to embrace and epitomise not just Thompson’s excellence as singer/songwriter but also his concrete consolidation in that superior British genealogy.

In concluding, it's worth noting how the intimacy of a small venue and live performance enhances the appreciation of a great artist. I trust I’ve made it clear how exceptional I feel his talent is: the word ‘hurricane’ isn’t in fact wholly apt, but I hope the analogy about trying to describe is understood. An example of what I mean from this show is demonstrated when Thompson explained that the song ‘Home’ was dedicated to his mother, and this one stated sentiment altered entirely the effect the song then and now has on me. My album review reference to the ‘domestic dominance of returning home’ misses the sweet if simple familial love conveyed through that superficially domestic preoccupation.

This was the penultimate song of his single encore. He finished, as he has been doing, on Abba’s ‘Super Trouper’ and it is astonishing but nonetheless amazing that with such a stunning songbook he can exit on such a pop classic. The fact that the audience could rouse to its familiarity was obviously ironic, but Teddy Thompson seemed to genuinely enjoy this and the overall experience. However, I'll wager again that he can't have possibly enjoyed it as much as me!

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