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Pop Music Review : Thompson and Lindley Double the Pleasure : Pop music review: Coupled with profound lyrics and fine instrumentalism, a night with the top-flight guitarist and the folk wizard is twice as nice.

June 14, 1995|JIM WASHBURN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO — Suppose a huge, William Howard Taft-sized craft full of space aliens came to hover over, say, San Juan Capistrano, and said space aliens were poised to obliterate the planet with one of those planet obliterators space aliens are always packing. Our only hope, they announce, is to send up one representative of our species to demonstrate to them that we have a culture worth preserving. Whom would we send?

Well, we might try David Lindley. It is in music that our soul most readily is revealed, and multi-instrumental wizard Lindley is a walking repository of the soulful, folk-based music of the world. So we might zip him up the tractor beam to dazzle the aliens with complex Malagasy lullabies, besotted Appalachian cries, Filipino chunk rhythms, Kurdish teeth-gnashers and Nordic laments, expressed on a forest of stringed instruments, all played with passion, warm humor and more than a little of Lindley's own unique personality.

But unfortunately, Mr. Lindley is given to sartorial excess, and at the first sight of his clashing orange-red, black and white-striped polyester assemblage--and his mane of hair that looks rather like Bob Marley's might after a decade in the grave--the space critters probably would push the button before he got to play a note.

So perhaps we should send up Richard Thompson. For my money--and yours too, if I could get ahold of it--Thompson is the best there is: the best songwriter; the best acoustic guitarist; the best electric guitarist; not the best singer, but certainly the best singer of his own songs, though everyone from Bonnie Raitt to R.E.M. also has assayed them. And in music, Thompson well may be the best at expressing who we are: delineating how lofty and pure our aspirations are and how tragically flawed we are at attaining them.

Unfortunately, the space aliens probably would hear a few of his sad ballads and would push the button just to put us out of our misery.

Face it, if you, a space alien, had hauled a planet obliterator across an entire galaxy, you'd be kind of itching to use it no matter what, wouldn't you?

If we were so doomed, I couldn't think of many better ways to spend a last night than at the Coach House on Monday when Thompson and Lindley made up a double bill.

Lindley had appeared at the club just six days earlier with Ry Cooder, and, typically, all that would be said of him at this juncture would be "reviewed recently in these pages." That's not quite sufficient, though, as his performance Monday was so changed from the previous one. There were just a few songs in common, and this time Lindley was joined by his usual accompanist, Hani Nasser on hand drums.

They're a formidable pair, with Nasser coaxing a world of rhythm out of his three Middle Eastern dumbeki drums and Lindley playing acoustic slide guitar, bouzouki, saz , cumbash and a Vox bass/bouzouki hybrid called "the beast."

Those instruments were applied only rarely to the type of music for which they originally were intended. The cumbash (a sort of Turkish banjo, made with a metal bowl and played with a bow) was used to accompany the nasal strains of Bob Dylan and Danny O'Keefe's "Well Well Well." It's hard to better describe the combined sound of Lindley's sawing bow and distinctively whiny vocals than to say it lived up to Lindley's introduction:

"A few other people have done this song, but not like this, not with a Kawasaki motorcycle going 120 down the freeway with the bugs going up your sinuses."

The high point of his performance was J.J. Cale's "Tia juana," when Lindley blended Middle Eastern sonorities with Mexican romanticism--on a Hawaiian slide guitar, no less--lending an ironic contrast to the tale of migrants desperate to cross the border.

But as much a treasure as Lindley's performance was, it could have been better. Somewhere down the line he seems to have bought into this image of "Mr. Dave, weird party guy."

While he perhaps single-handedly is keeping the polyester sportswear industry afloat, the image sells his music short. And while airing the obscure and oddball songs of other writers, he completely ignored his own compositions, which include emotive instrumentals, such sad, tender songs as "Truly Do" and such wild romps as "Hands Like a Man" (both from his best album, "Mr. Dave," never released in the United States).

One also can't help missing the unfettered electric flights he took with his band El Rayo-X, which, except for one benefit show, has been up on blocks since the last decade.

*

For their encore, Lindley and Nasser were joined by Thompson and his acoustic bassist Danny (no relation) Thompson for a boisterous version of the New Orleans staple "Brother John." One only can speculate about the intricate collaborations they may have developed had an intended summer tour together not been sidelined by a European jaunt that Lindley is doing with Cooder. In any case, it was fabulous, spontaneously combusting stuff.

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