Sunday, February 12, 2012


Funny thing, fame.  Viewing this new Blu-ray, and reflecting on Thompson's long and high-quality career, it strikes me that even though he is not what we'd consider a star, he may have found the perfect mix of commercial and artistic success.  He's basically a cult artist, highly respected and loved by those that know him, a big enough draw to fill small halls, and continue to release albums, get lots of adoring press, yet not really bother pop culture or be a household name.  I'm sure he'd like to add a zero onto every pay cheque over the years, but here's what he'd have to give up.

Almost every act of his vintage (he started in the late 60's) pretty much has to come out and do a greatest hits show, and lean heavily on the tried-and-true numbers from the start of their career.  Thompson, however, can do shows of entirely new material, as we have here, and still have the audience thrilled.  I bet he appreciates this, and for an artist, it may be more important than that collection of luxury cars in the garage their more commercially-successful peers can afford.

This set comes from a festival in Glasgow, rather than the similarly-named one in Cape Breton.  Recorded in January of last year, it sees Thompson perform the bulk of his latest effort, the strong Dream Attic album.  That album was actually a live one, of all-new material, captured in concert rather than in studio as Thompson and his crack band worked out exciting stage arrangements.  We get the usual devastating character studies, take-downs of greedy bastard bankers (The Money Shuffle), self-important rock stars (Here Comes Geordie, reported to be about Sting), and vile serial killers (Sidney Wells).  The musicianship is of the highest order, with Thompson effortlessly coaxing ripping solos, but more importantly providing a rich and ringing tone through all his rhythm and fills-playing.

The band is stellar and able to move in any direction Thompson chooses, adding lots of their own colours.  Pete Zorn is a mood machine, going from dark and gloomy to full-out rocking on sax and flute, as well as beefing up the set when needed on second guitar and vocals.  Canadian and McGarrigle associate Joel Zifkin is whiz on fiddle, and as Thompson explains in the liner notes, not stuck on any style, so a valuable sideman.  Rather than impressing with solos, this band is all about making a joyful noise together.

The hall-capacity audience is highly supportive of these new-to-them songs, and nobody is rushing out to the beer vendor like they do when The Rolling Stones try to sneak in something written after 1978.  And even when the Thompson Band returns for the second set of older material, it's hardly a greatest-hits night.  Instead his fans are treated to rare gems such as The Angels Took My Racehorse Away from his solo debut Henry The Human Fly in 1972 ("the poorest-selling album in Warner Brothers' history", he says triumphantly).  Thompson could cherry-pick just about anything from his discs and get away with it, but of course he does add some of the better-known favourites, this time Wall Of Death, Al Bowlly's In Heaven and Tear-Stained Letter, the latter perhaps his biggest showboat crowd-pleaser. 

If you are a Thompson fan, you already know you need this video.  If he's new to you, it's a great place to start, and lucky you, as there will be so much to discover.

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