Teddy Thompson, Barbican, London
Tuesday 22 February 2011
He and his band, Teddy Thompson admits, have been more used to playing in small clubs on their current tour than swanky joints like the Barbican – and sadly, it shows.
Unfortunately, they've chosen to huddle together in a small knot in the centre of this huge stage that's designed to hold an entire orchestra, which makes them seem even more dwarfed by the occasion.
But it's doubtful whether the musicians, accomplished as they are, have the individual personalities to occupy a larger space on stage. Such character as they display is largely restricted to a smattering of bohemian musicians' hats: there's no Keef swagger or Townshend windmilling about this lot, just the kind of neat musicianship that comes across fine on recordings but gains little in the live arena.
Which is a shame, as Thompson's new album, Bella, finds him surpassing the promise of his earlier recordings and developing into a songwriter with a distinctive lyrical character to match his impressive voice. The latter is best showcased here on the self-lacerating "Over and Over", where he elides smoothly from flatted blue notes to the higher reaches of his tenor croon with an assurance that recalls Roy Orbison, Del Shannon and Chris Isaak, perhaps his closest equivalent in contemporary music.
So: he writes well, he can clearly out-sing the angels, and as his little Telecaster fills on songs such as "I Should Get Up" suggest, he's inherited a modest quotient of his dad's invaluable guitar DNA. By rights, I should be bowled over by Teddy Thompson; but there's some indefinable element missing from tonight's show, a shortfall that can't be disguised by the imaginative arrangements of violin, string synth, electric piano and celesta that help hoist songs such as "Over and Over" and particularly the hit-in-waiting "Looking for a Girl" beyond the folkie territory revisited during a brief mid-set solo acoustic section.
Not that he's about to abandon that constituency just yet, mind: one of the most engaging moments of the show comes when Teddy's sister, Kamila, and mum, Linda, join him for a family singalong of a short song Linda wrote about Pete Doherty, which concludes, "See ya, wouldn't wanna be ya, babyshambles". But maybe just a soupçon of that shambolic charisma wouldn't go amiss in Teddy's case.
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