Richard Thompson, Corn Exchange, Cambridge

The brothers grim win hearts and minds
Click to follow

Richard and Danny Thompson are not related in blood but, musically, they evidently shared a womb. Danny is playing double bass on Richard's current "solo" tour. He stands behind Richard and quietly cajoles, resolves, underpins and smoothes things over just like a responsible older brother should. More importantly, he backs up Richard's jokes. It's a relationship born out of something stranger and more fundamental than language, because when they lock together, there is not a hair's breadth between them in what they have to say and how they go about saying it. They can throw each other invisible balls and catch them with their eyes shut.

Tonight, the massed fiftysomethings of Cambridge nod and clap and share in the mordant hilarity of it all but are also visibly moved. Let me now insult Richard by devising three loose categories for his songs: The Grimly Funny Ones, The Grimly Sad Ones, The Grimly Grumpy Ones. The latter group are the least moving, but find approval among those who enjoy fluent linguistics set to a pressing, almost punky pulse. The Grimly Funny Ones - such as "Hots for the Smarts" ("Give me brains over hearts") - are jazzily light and are there to take the pressure off after a Grimly Grumpy One. It's the Grimly Sad Ones - chiefly "Waltzing's for Dreamers" and "For Whose Sake?" - which invoke the deep silences in the Corn Exchange tonight, the sort of silence you hear under the sound of the music.

Thompson might well be our most rangey songwriter. But what gives his long reach real grip is his musicality - the way he strikes a string, busts a cadence, strings out a coda, goes for broke with his double-bass player, as if being here and now and getting off on it really is more telling than the cleverest thought.