The Hang Fire Books Blog

The rantings of a bookdealer in Brooklyn, New York.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Prospect Park Concerts

Just had two nights in a row when I could meander down the road and see a legendary performer in concert, nearly for free. Last night was Richard Thompson, tonight was Ralph Stanley. Opportunities like that make it a little easier paying the rent every month.

This was my first Thompson performance. I was surprised at how peppy and upbeat he was in person when most of his songs end in gunshot deaths, car wrecks, or abandonment. Also I've never seen anyone play that much of a guitar without once slipping into wank territory.

A good portion of the set was from his new album Sweet Warrior. "Dad's Gonna Kill Me" was the standout. It's song written in army slang ("Dad" as in "Baghdad"), about a man trying to give a face and name to blind luck and his increasingly shitty odds of getting home in one piece.

Thompson played with such energy that he even sold me on one or two songs that felt kind of slight on the record ("Bad Monkey" and "Mr. Stupid").

He did a few tracks from I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight + Shoot Out the Lights that were solidly rearranged with horns but sad without Linda's voice. (Anyone know what a "Wall of Death" is? It's some kind of Carny ride, I guess).

During the closer--a Chuck Berry-style rocker called "Tear-Stained Letter" that I've been singing for a solid 16-hours--he snapped a string, played around it, and would have kept going without missing a note but the dude with the backup guitar got the straps tangled.

Very memorable and impressive. I even forgot to mention the downpour that kept turning on and off like a faucet, so that's a good show. He did a similar set in DC that you can find on NPR here (soon). The live broadcast wasn't playing well with Firefox but it may have been my issues.

Ralph Stanley was worthwhile too. Unfortunately the opener was a little too similar in tone and I can only take so much banjo pickin'. I stuck around for "Oh Death" and was glad. For a man who's so chummy with God, I have never heard a song that better captured the dread of being wormfood. Stanley the younger though seemed a little too aware of being smack in the middle of Gemorrah and was dropping too much Jesus and GDub for me to sit out the cold, damp any longer (hearing "Long Black Veil" drifting in the window and I'm feeling some regret about leaving).


Anonymous said...

Wall of Death was ..maybe still is if the Nanny State has not pulled their plug...a motor cycle stunt show ...where bikes would be driven at and on to the wall then speed round the wall so that they were parallel to the ground, centrifugal force holding them in place while they did various stunts. The spectators of course watched in the hope that they would slowdown enough to fall off the wall.

William Smith said...

Yeah I googled and came up with that. Not sure if it fits with the concept of the "...Bright Lights" record though, since the two lovers--who are mostly the subject of the record--are attending a carnival, not performing at one ("Let me ride on the wall of death one more time"). Also that motorized a carnival act might be too late for the setting of most of the songs. Maybe it was an earlier game/ride and then the name was appropriated by the motorcycle performance. Also possible he was mixing metaphors slightly.

sarahsbooks said...

Love "Tear-Stained Letter" - one of my very favorite RT songs... and whenever I listen to it, it gets stuck in my head too, in that way that great songs do. Sounds like a great show!

His son Teddy's newish record is sad/good/twangy and RT plays guitar here and there on it. Particularly like the song "I Should Get Up."

William Smith said...

Teddy performed a duet with RT at the show. "Persuasion" (I think?). I've heard him on records by both RT and LT but I haven't tried one of his solos yet. His voice is definitely more American-country music sounding than RT's. I'll check out the new one if I turn it up. A friend is possibly ripping the concert from a near-the-soundboard recording. If it's decent, I could send a copy along.