By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — For a musician blessed with such remarkable talents, British folk-rock giant Richard Thompson remains far from a household name beyond his passionate cult of fans. One of the founders of pioneering U.K. folk-rock outfit Fairport Convention when he was in his late teens, Thompson helped shape the group’s electrified mix of Dylan covers, scintillating acoustic originals, and traditional English and Celtic folk tunes on influential albums like Unhalfbricking and Leige & Leif prior to his departure from the band in 1971.
In the decades since, Thompson proved himself to be a master of many trades. After his quirky 1972 solo debut Henry the Human Fly reportedly became one of the worst-selling albums ever for Warner Bros. (the eccentric effort would later be hailed for its fearless experimental slant), he would release a string of brilliant records with then-wife Linda Thompson. From the timeless 1974 classic I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight through to their heartbreaking 1982 swan song Shoot Out the Lights — a recording that still stands as one of the most vivid breakup albums ever made — the pair created a remarkable body of work.
Thompson would go on to a fruitful solo career, sharpening his already prodigious gifts as an evocative songwriter, darkly comical lyricist and one of the most blazing guitarists on the planet. Unlike many of his ’60s-era contemporaries, he has consistently produced new songs that stand with his best work, whether performing more delicate solo acoustic versions of his tunes or rocking out with an electric band. Thompson also established his own Beeswing Records, which has released steady stream of live recordings from many of his tours since the early 2000s, including the guitarist’s entertaining 1,000 Years of Popular Music that found him performing material ranging from the earliest known English-language songs and a medieval Italian dance tune to more contemporary songs made famous by the Who, the Beatles, Abba, Prince and even Britney Spears.
While his more recent tours have found Thompson performing on his own, the release of his latest album 13 Rivers last fall finds him returning to the U.S. backed by his longtime trio of drummer Michael Jerome and bassist Taras Prodaniuk (sometimes augmented on second guitar by Bobby Eichorn). For these two Bay Area shows at the Cocoanut Grove Ballroom in Santa Cruz Thursday night and the Fillmore in San Francisco on Friday, Thompson will be joined for a solo opening set by noted indie-rock singer/songwriter Ryley Walker. Fans should not miss this rare chance to see one of rock’s great guitarists perform in such intimate venues.
Thursday, January 31, 7 p.m. $39.50
The Cocoanut Grove
Friday, February 1, 8 p.m. $36.50