Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell with Richard Thompson – The Beacon Theater, New York, March 27
I had pretty high hopes when I walked into the Beacon Theater last Wednesday night to see Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell co-headline a bill with Richard Thompson. I’d never seen Thompson and while I saw Harris at an outdoor show a couple of years ago (opening for the late, great Levon Helm), I was looking forward to hearing her great voice in a smaller venue with good acoustics.
I was also looking forward to seeing two veteran performers who’ve managed to avoid the nostalgia trap that so many long-established artists haven’t. You know how it goes, classic rockers the put a new song or two, or maybe a lukewarm album, go out on a reunion/anniversary tour and charge boomers a couple of hundred bucks a ticket to hear the hits they’ve gotten old to (cough, Stones, cough, Eagles, cough, Fleetwood Mac).
I was not disappointed on any front. Thompson continues to put interesting, new material, including his fine new release, Electric. And unlike a certain more commercially successful British guitarist (cough, Clapton, cough), it took Thompson about three minutes to show’s opener, “Stuck on the Treadmill” that his guitar playing has lost none of its fire. Thompson still puts younger axe slingers to shame, and his solos were jawdropping (when he came out later to trade solos with Harris’ guitarist, Jedd Hughes, on “I Ain’t Living Long Like This”, I almost felt sorry for Hughes, despite his having shown some chops of his own). Thompson and his bandmates, drummer Michael Jerome and bass player Taras Prodaniuk, played 10 song opening set drew equally from the new record and his work since the late ‘80’s, including a solo version of his classic, “1952 Vincent Black Lightning”.
Harris avoided the nostalgia trap not by running from but by embracing it, finally doing a full album with long-time collaborator (and former Hot Band member) Rodney Crowell. While Harris has consistently put out new material that stretches boundaries and changes direction, Old Yellow Moon, is a more of a traditional country record. When their set wasn’t drawing heavily from it, the duo revisited other highlights from their work together, notably three songs from her best early album, Luxury Liner.
Throughout the night, you could tell Harris and Crowell were totally comfortable playing and harmonizing together and clearly enjoying it. Their five piece backing band, was tight and tossed off country rockers like the Kris Kristofferson penned “Chase The Feeling” and slower numbers like Towne Van Zandt’s “Pancho and Lefty” equally as effortlessly. At one point Harris asked the audience if they “remembered country music”, and honestly, no, I don’t, at least not as good as this.
Harris’ voice, if a bit warmer over the years, is still drop dead gorgeous, and I’ve always loved it more when she’s singing duets or harmonies. It paired wonderfully with Crowell, particularly on the Gram Parsons’ penned songs, “The Return of the Grievous Angel” and “Love Hurts” that opened and closed the show.
The vocal highlights of the evening were“Dreaming My Dreams” and “Back When We Were Beautiful”, two exquisite ballads from the new record. Indeed, they got the ultimate sign of respect from the audience during these two songs– pure silence. I can’t remember the last time I went to a show where a bunch of dipsticks hadn’t decided that this was the time and place they need to discuss world events, who they’re sleeping with, or what they had for breakfast. People, if you want to listen to music and run your mouth, please give the rest of us a break and stay the hell at home.
But that’s how the night was, an appreciative, music-loving crowd content to enjoy and respect three artists who are all still very much on top of their craft.