Review: Teddy Thompson – Out to Lunch 2019
Teddy Thompson’s support act for the evening was Virginian singer-songwriter Dori Freeman, whose new album, Letters Never Read, Thompson has produced. She introduced herself in her southern drawl and told us she was going to give us thirty minutes of sad songs. In a bedazzled white blazer which wouldn’t have looked out of place on one of The Flying Burrito Brothers that’s exactly what she did, backed by her husband Nicholas Falk on drums.
Their look, like their sound, is easy and relaxed, and for the most part the songs are nice enough, though some more memorable than others. The best were those in which Falk provided backing vocals, I’d like to hear more of him. After telling us how much they were enjoying their first trip to Ireland, particularly given Freeman’s Irish “Dooley” ancestry, Dori admitted how difficult it was to leave their 5-year-old daughter. The song inspired by her is a pretty thing, and the lyrics, “‘til I had a little baby, I never knew, that I could love someone, like I love you,” was all the more touching since they’re both her parents.
Teddy came onstage at about 9.30 and was straight into “Don’t Know What I Was Thinking” without a word to the people. The resonance of his voice is just stunning. At such close quarters, its almost incredible that anyone can sound this good live. His first words to the audience were to say how nice it was to be back in our little Black Box; “there are so many jokes I could make.”
It’s like there are two sides to Teddy; he’s so smiley and genial and funny when he’s speaking but looks so intense when he sings. He scattered a few new songs throughout the night’s set, and they sound great. I think I am going to have to admit, or at least stop denying, that I like country music. I suppose have always loved Merle Haggard and Patsy Cline and Lyle Lovett, and wild horses still couldn’t drag me to a Carrie Underwood or Nathan Carter gig, but I’m finally willing to admit that good country music can be really great.
“I Want the One I Can’t Have“ is an oldie and bemoans the dubious plight of the man who never wants the girl he’s with and is always looking over her shoulder at her friend. For someone who tells us he hasn’t done a live gig in over six months, he’s certainly not sounding rusty. Another of his many songs about girls is “I Wish It Was Over”, which he acknowledges might be read as somewhat misogynistic. He excuses it by explaining that he was very young when he wrote it, that it was written long before the Me Too movement and, he explained, “it goes both ways, a woman could sing it and it would be just as offensive.”
The new record has been a long time in the making. His last album, Little Windows, was co-written with Kelly Jones and Bill DeMain, and before that was the album written and recorded with his family, so it has been seven years since he’s released and album of all his own music. A very pretty new song, which I’m guessing might be called “You’re Gonna Miss Me,” makes me think the album which is due for release later this year, will be worth the wait.
A fantastically moody song is “Can’t Sing Straight.” In a song on the Family album Teddy refers to his younger self as, “the boy with red hair and no smile.” Here again he says, “I was an ugly kid with an ugly name… But I grew up pretty and tall and fine.” He sure did! It’s a very affecting song and his performance of it is intense.
As promised, the set included songs from across his career and he recalled the country album of mostly covers, Upfront and Low Down, which at the time was described as career suicide by critics. He said terms like “abject failure” were bandied around. The one self-penned song on that record was “Down Low” which he described as, “eight minutes long, slow, painfully slow, funereal,” and advised us if we needed to nip to the loo or the bar, that would be an opportune time. And it’s true that it’s not jolly, but it is beautiful, and the control he has over those long, low, quiet notes is phenomenal.
Another new song, “Record Player”, laments the passing of the style of music that the loved when he was growing up listening to Elvis and Chuck Berry and The Everly Brothers. He mused at the idea of what it must feel like to have the music that you like also to be the most popular music of the time, something he’s never experienced. The lyrics ask, “where are the songs that I love? Is it only in my head or on the record player?” and describes modern music as “nails on a chalkboard.” It’s another short little ditty and sounds like a countrified rock n roll standard.
Dori Freeman and Nicholas Falk returned to the stage for a couple of numbers; one of hers, one of Teddy’s; “Don’t Remind Me” from Little Windows. I have to admit, I don’t think her voice is a patch on Kelly Jones’, but it was nice all the same.
I was disappointed that he didn’t tell his customary tale of the indulgently long intro to “The Things I Do,” since I have never heard it in the flesh, but I’m glad this song made the setlist. It sounds as fresh as if it were spanking new and he plays it with the same intent. Then a song I didn’t recognise, but not straying far from Teddy’s usual subject matter, lamented a lost relationship. With a brand new car and even a brand new girl, out hero still looked back on a past love. If this is a new one. I like it!
At the announcement that there were only a couple of songs left, there was an outcry! “You have to do ‘In My Arms’!” the woman next to me screamed. “Don’t tell me what to do!” he retorted good-humouredly. “But Ok.” The shouting of requests continued long enough for Teddy to interrupt them to say, “I didn’t catch all of that, but it sounded adoring, and what else am I here for if not to get some self-worth from all you lovely people?” At that he played the perennial “Looking for a Girl,” which I love, because let’s face it, who doesn’t want to find someone who, “turns my bread into buttered toast”? Thankfully we didn’t get the censored, radio version.
And then, a rare thing – a musician who actually left the stage, then came back on to enthusiastic, cheering and foot stomping. It felt like a real encore. He returned to the stage with Freeman and Falk. “Don’t wait another six months!” a broad accent shouted out from the crowd, in reference to Teddy’s absence from live performance, which a bewildered Teddy couldn’t make out. The encore of two songs comprised “The Worst is Yet to Come,” and the demanded “In My Arms.” Hand clapping and singing along made for a party atmosphere and he left the stage on a high.
Unfortunately, I didn’t make it to very many of the events in this year’s simply brilliant CQAF Out to Lunch Festival – but this was one I wouldn’t have missed for anything. The appreciative audience clearly agreed with me that this was a sensational night of music and I have never heard a better live voice than Teddy Thompson’s. He’s up there with his mate Rufus Wainwright as one of the best vocalists of a generation.