Age and the passing of time were very much on Richard Thompson’s mind Friday night at the House of Blues. He played his guitar with a freshness and ease that can only come from playing with old and trusted friends — he was backed by drummer Dave Mattacks, who has worked with Thompson since their days in Fairport Convention, along with longtime collaborators Pete Zorn on horns and stringed instruments and the incredible Danny Thompson on bass.
During his swiftly moving two-hour, 20-minute set of “old songs, new songs, lost songs and connected songs,” the singer-guitarist introduced “The Wrong Heartbeat” as “one from the ’80s,” which meant, “It was written before some of you were even born,” then paused to look out the crowd, shook his head and deadpanned, “No, not you lot.” He also referred to his backing band as “musical legends — by that I mean really old musicians”; and explained that he includes an acoustic section midway through the evening because it wouldn’t be seemly for “a bunch of old men to rock out all night long.”
It’s all done in good fun, as Thompson makes his comments with arched eyebrows and a puckish grin. But for all his comments about growing old, the songs Thompson performed sounded timeless — and not because they are sturdy enough to withstand the faddishness of pop music (a career spanning more than 30 years has proved that). Thompson’s music simply ignores time.
“1952 Vincent Black Lightning” is a 20th-century narrative, but the basic story, diction and melodic structure would not have felt unfamiliar to an Elizabethan balladeer. The driving “Tear Stained Letter” could have been played by a 1950s dance band (and Thompson’s solo referenced rockabilly guitarists Paul Burlison, Cliff Gallup and Scotty Moore), but the fills at the end of each verse mimicked an ancient madrigal’s Arabian-influenced melodies.
The aforementioned “Wrong Heartbeat” was introduced as an example of “Celtic reggae,” but ended up sounding like the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me,” albeit arranged for bass sax and standup bass. Reggae of the Caribbean variety made an appearance when Thompson inserted Desmond Dekker & the Aces’ “Israelites” into “Crawl Back (Under My Stone).”