Review: Loudon Wainwright III

About 30 seconds into "Cooksferry Queen," Richard Thompson's set opener at the Garde Arts Center Friday night, the disbelief set in.

A human being, made of flesh and blood, biologically not dissimilar to me and you and us, cannot be doing that to a guitar.

Of course, Thompson, who is co-headlining an acoustic tour with his close friend Loudon Wainwright III, has over the course of his 40-year career been universally praised as one the best guitar players in rock history.

And once you see Thompson play, distilling everything from Django Reinhardt to English folk, you're not going to find too many people who are going to argue with you and win.

Thompson's hour-long set also showcased his brilliant catalog of forlorn love songs and tales of besotted ramblers.

He reached back to his heady early '70s albums with then-wife Linda Thompson, with a charging take on "I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight," perhaps the most depressing song ever written about going out on the town and having fun.

Thompson, 60, got confessional, with his plaintive "Cold Kisses," and answered an audience request for "Wall of Death," the closing track his final album with Linda, "Shoot Out The Lights."

Thompson also thrilled the Garde crowd by playing his best-known song, "1952 Vincent Black Lightning," his ode to a classic British motorcycle, (Nothing in this world/Beats a 52 Vincent and red-headed girl).

Wainwright joined Thompson for the two-song encore, which included the sparse, aching "Down Where The Drunkards Roll."

Wainwright is the second member of his talented family to appear in New London in the past two years; his daughter Martha played the 2008 I AM Festival.

The 63-year-old singer-songwriter mostly showed off the zany humor that brought him a hit with 1972's "Dead Skunk (In The Middle of the Road)," which was thankfully absent from Friday night's set.

Wainwright opened with the funny "Nanny," which name-checks Westerly, as he worked for a while in the 1960s as a Rhode Island lobsterman.

Wainwright also offered some of the topical humor that has made him popular with NPR types, as he sang a tribute to the Cash for Clunkers program.

Those songs were crowd pleasers, but Wainwright can also slay you with sadness, as he did on the wistful "New Paint," easily the best part of his set.

s.chupaska@theday.com

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