There's an "Odd Couple" affability to the Loud & Rich tour of songwriters Loudon Wainwright III and Richard Thompson. The two are longtime friends and collaborators, Thompson having produced or played on most of Wainwright's recordings in the 80s, but for their first tour together, the two look about as mismatched Felix Unger and Oscar Madison. In khakis and a brown button-down, Wainwright's tongue-waggling manic energy made him seem like an orthodontist who had hit the laughing gas a little hard, in contrast to Thompson's fastidious rockstar look, all dark clothes and black beret but mostly with ramrod straight posture. With the two off them together on stage, though, it was obvious they have a blast, and that was more than enough to win over the middle-aged NPR crowd at the Fitzgerald Wednesday night.
After the New Depression tunes, Wainwright got into family territory, playing "Half Fist", referring to his inheritance from his grandfather and dropped the tuning on his guitar for the haunting workaday ballad "Dead Man". After trenchantly noting that "Maybe now Garrison Keillor will have me on his show," Wainwright played "High Wide & Handsome" and "Way Up in NYC" from his Grammy-award winning High Wide & Handsome: The Charlie Poole Project, songs which, although he still kicked his leg out and made rubber faces to, had him closing his eyes to focus on the Charlie Poole character. He moved to the grand piano to play "Song In C", a tune that starts as a joke about his piano-playing abilities but morphs into the story of his family and their struggles to stay together- his relationship with his parents and children Rufus and Martha has been fodder for most of Wainwright's career, as he noted, "If families didn't break apart/ I suppose there would be no need for art." As he joked and hit on someone in the front row about swimming ("You know that pool? Want to go there later?" ) Wainwright received rapturous applause for "Swimming Song" which was repeated later in the set when he broke into "White Winos", a beautiful song about coping with family, alcoholism and verges on the Oedipal. Thompson made his first appearance towards the end of the set, stepping in to play the crisp walk-down solos that he originated on "Fly Paper" from 1989's Therapy.
After a brief intermission, Thompson came out for his own solo set. It is no secret that the founder of Fairport Convention is one of the best living guitar players and a formidable songwriter in his own right, so although he may not have Wainwright's energetic charisma, his playing was faultless. Songs like "Turning of the Tide", about one-night stands and becoming old were moving in their poetic construction and Thomspson's deep Scottish-inflected accent added a gravity to all of his songs. He was not as chatty as Wainwright between songs, but when he did, it was with a stammering halt to crack jokes about getting paid and LPs, as well as to laugh about being on the road with Wainwright; he claimed that Wainwright had hidden his trousers from him for an hour before coming on stage. The chatter may have been good-natured but it did not translate over to Thompson's own outrage song about Wall Street, "The Money Shuffle", which came across as hammering and didactic. He then segued into some older tunes, "I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight" and "1952 Black Vincent Lightening" a wildly received, impassioned and impeccably executed ballad about a thief, his girl and the motorcycle that brought them together that is probably Thompson's most instantly recognizable tune. Another new tune, a take on the traditional murder ballad proved heavy-handed and hypnotic but when he closed out his solo set with the tale of freedom and seduction, "Persuasion", half the audience was on it's feet by the end. Wainwright came back out for a trio of songs to close out the night and as the two of them swayed back and forth and laughed at each other, calling out the endings, it was good to see that however hard the times may be and whatever the state of your industry, a good friend will always help you through.