Richard Thompson was the reason most of the people in the sold-out house were at City Winery NYC on a cold Thursday night, but Teddy is the Thompson to thank for these shows and the excellent album for which they're spreading the word. Family, produced by Teddy and featuring his parents Richard and Linda, sister Kami, brother Jack, nephew Zak Hobbs, Kami's husband James Walbourne, and James's brother Rob, was released in November 2014.
Reuniting Richard and Linda Thompson on a record was Teddy's doing. From his initial idea to have each family member record two tracks, he added one each from the youngest musicians in Clan Thompson: the talented multi-instrumentalist Zak Hobbs (Richard and Linda's grandson) and lyrical bassist Jack Thompson (son of Richard and wife Nancy Covey). Richard feigned distress, at the start of the show, that he was "at least 25 years older than anyone else" on stage, but clearly took great delight in his company.
Linda was very much present in the minds of the performers. Richard, grinning, dedicated "I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight" to "the matriarch." Kami, who has her mother's looks, and particularly Linda's deep dark eyes, stepped up to the mike to sing the song along with her father in a clear, light voice. Later, she proudly showed off her mother's guitar strap, the letters LINDA in bright silver glitter down her shoulder. Teddy sang a lovely solo acoustic "Home" that he dedicated "to mum."
Each family member performed alone or as a duo, except for Rob Walbourne, who was responsible for laying down the drumbeat. Standout moments were Hobbs, who I first heard as a long-haired, quiet young man with Linda and Teddy at The Living Room in 2013. Slim and elegant, all long arms and legs, graceful and relaxed on stage, he is a fine electric guitarist and mandolin player. James Walbourne, with his Brando leather jacket, battered jeans, and slick swirl of black hair smack in the middle of his forehead, channeled John Lennon circa 1958 as he bounded from instrument to instrument. He traded licks with Richard for longer than anyone else was able to -- prompting Kami to say to husband and father, with a smile, "showoffs." On accordion, he spiced up "Tear-Stained Letter," playing with such exuberance he looked like he'd learned how from James Fearnley.
Thompson family humor, regardless of the ages or gender of the performers, seems a constant: smart, sharp, and sometimes dark. Announcing a "cheery ditty about being married," Kami smiled as James joined her in her lament "I Long for Lonely." Richard asked James for a capo, and Walbourne, proffering it, said "ten quid." As the musicians settled on a song, and determined, laughing, the key in which it was to be, Teddy spoke softly from the back of the stage: "we're like a well-oiled machine."
Richard and Teddy have played together often in the past few years -- I heard them at the Bearsville Theater back in 2012. At the Winery, Teddy acted as frontman, a slight, serious figure and constant bandleader, always with his head turned to the side when he wasn't singing, listening to the others. His acoustic playing shone, on a beautiful, battered Lowden (like Richard's; Kami had a Martin). In "Family," he sings of himself as a little red-haired boy who never smiles. At the end of last night, he should have been breaking that persona to pieces, and also have been proud of the project, record, and road band he has made come to pass. He and Richard did a lovely duet of "Persuasion," at the end of which RT nodded happily at TT. The Thompson Family concluded with one of Richard -- and Linda's -- best-known songs, "Wall of Death." It's no more uplifting in title and theme -- a carnival ride and fatality combined -- than very many Richard Thompson songs, but, like so many, it stirs and exhilarates even as it wrenches. Performers and audience beamed in the wake of the Wall, more than ready to go for two more shows here in New York.
The Thompson Family, City Winery NYC, January 29-31. Sold out, but check with the Winery for the waitlist.