Rock Roundup

Old Gold

Elvis Costello, Jeff Tweedy and Richard Thompson head up a great week of concerts featuring veteran performers.

By - Jun 9th, 2014 12:53 pm

Top Show: Richard Thompson Electric Trio at Pabst Theater, Friday June 13

Richard Thompson grew up during the 1960s flowering of British rock ‘n’ roll, and he appreciated its pleasures. He was less attracted to its “philosophies,” especially the doctrinaire lionization of Youth.

Evidence for the above claim dates to 1968, the year Fairport Convention, the folk-rock band he took part in founding, issued its self-titled debut LP. He was 19; he played guitar, wrote and sang as if he had at least another decade behind him.

Now 65, Thompson obviously has many more decades behind him. However, actual age has merely refined the maturity that always lay behind his dexterity (on acoustic and electric) and mournfully low vocals.

Devotees note the variety in Thompson’s catalog—the prolific 1970s with wife Linda, who had a much more overtly gorgeous voice than her husband; the1982 watershed album, Shoot Out the Lights, which marked the end of the duo in all ways; the solo-career lunges both toward and away from the pop market—while taking comfort in his steadiness.

Thompson’s songs per se are generally about as comforting as Child Ballads, those dark-hued traditional English and Scottish ballads that have influenced him, although his don’t so much wallow in the miseries of life as flintily observe them. Even his upbeat numbers can sport titles like “Tear-Stained Letter” or, like “I Feel So Good,” feature narrators whose good time is making sure you have a bad time.

If not for Thompson’s sustained talents, his material would risk monotony, especially after such a long run. Yet his most recent studio disc, last year’s Electric, fulfills the energy of its title, with some thanks to Nashville producer Buddy Miller, a brilliant songwriter and guitarist as self-effacing as Thompson.

Thompson’s recent live shows have reflected the charge: a trio format, with bassist Taras Prodaniuk and drummer Michael Jerome, has pushed him to find different ways to play. Perhaps he was never truly young, which doesn’t mean he can’t be youthful.

(Christopher Porterfield, a sharp, locally based singer-songwriter and the frontman for Field Report, is a bonus opener.)

A sample of RT’s melodic side:

Tuesday, June 10: Elvis Costello at Riverside Theater

Unlike Richard Thompson, Elvis Costello is no one’s idea of a guitar virtuoso. He has admitted that he laboriously earned the nickname “Little Hands of Concrete” bestowed on him by pal and producer Nick Lowe, and he’s definitely a strummer rather than a picker.

Thus, from his first album, 1977’s My Aim Is True, up through last year’s Wise Up Ghost and Other Songs,a collaboration with the Roots, E.C. has relied upon (usually) excellent, (often) clever and (regularly) pungent songs, plus a musicologist’s encyclopedic expertise and a music buff’s voracious enthusiasm. He’ll bring all those things to this solitary show.

He’s rarely boring:

Wednesday, June 11: Morgan Delt at Cactus Club

I think psychedelic music succeeds best when it makes a listener feel as though he is on drugs without his having to ingest, inject or inhale anything. (I also think, as a corollary, that anyone who claims certain music cannot be appreciated without ingestion, injection or inhalation…is pushing crap.)

By that measure, Morgan Delt, the first full-length from an L.A. denizen named Morgan Delt, is a triumph. It not only seems to alter the mind but also to alter time: nearly any of its eleven tracks could be slipped into the middle of a circa-1969 playlist and draw no protests from the most sober freak at the orgy.

Have a toke of this:

Thursday, June 12: Bettye LaVette at Turner Hall Ballroom

If portions of this week’s Roundup read like a detailed confirmation of the “primacy of age” argument advanced by dead rock critic Lester Bangs, then Bettye LaVette is among the strongest reinforcements for that argument.

Somewhat (or incredibly) neglected as a soul singer, funkateer and disco flirt from the early 1960s until the 1990s, the Michigan native had settled into a routine of live gigs until the 21st century, when record geeks, history buffs and the retro-soul movement conspired to let her cut a series of first-rate long-players with the likes of Joe Henry and Drive-By Truckers.

The latest, 2012’s Thankful N’ Thoughtful, is a covers record. Luckily for her, you and me, she’s from a school that lives to re-interpret good stuff into more good (and sometimes better) stuff:


Jeff Tweedy. Photo Credit: Larry Philpot,

Jeff Tweedy. Photo Credit: Larry Philpot,

Monday, June 16: Jeff Tweedy at Pabst Theater

Asked about his scruffiness roughly 50 years ago, Bob Dylan responded that people weren’t paying him to look neat. That isn’t to say Jeff Tweedy has adopted Dylan’s words as a mantra; only to say that Tweedy rarely shambles onstage without looking as if awoken, two minutes earlier, from a couch nap. And as if razors and combs frighten him.

Fans pay him for a body of work that includes some of the greatest alt-country music (from his first band, Uncle Tupelo), some of the most unassumingly eclectic Americana (from his second band, Wilco) and all kinds of rock and country odds-n-sods (Golden Smog, etc.). Solo and shaggy, he nevertheless can pull amazing performances from the air.

A minor glance into the man’s mind and mode:

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