Touring to celebrate their 35th anniversary as a band (and in support of their new album, “XXXV,” on Compass Records) Fairport Convention appeared at the Knitting Factory in Hollywood — and was a bit of a disappointment.
Fronted by longtime members guitarist Simon Nicol and bassist Dave Pegg, the current edition of Fairport resembles the folkier latter-day Jethro Tull, albeit with better vocal harmonies. Quaintly rustic, with fiddles, lutes and mandolins cavorting among the guitar and bass, recent songs such as “My Love Is in America” and “Happy Men” come off as spiffed-up theme-park Olde England or brunch music for the Renaissance Faire set.
The musicianship is still of a very high standard, but so genteel as to be soporific. Even the anti-war ballad “Deserter” (from the band’s classic “Liege and Lief” album) could be mistaken for a lullaby. Droll and somewhat distracted, Pegg and Nicol interacted with the polite yet sparse audience like a pair of avuncular, eccentric kiddie show hosts, an impression emphasized when they brought on a visibly nervous fan to join them on bass.
While the band has always been something of a revolving door when it comes to members, without its most distinctive elements — Richard Thompson’s barbed, angular guitar and the late Sandy Denny’s crystalline vocals — this edition of Fairport Convention does not quite make a quorum.