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Thompson and Crowded House team up at Orpheum

CROWDED HOUSE

With Richard Thompson.

Orpheum Theater, Sept. 27, 8 pm.

By DEBORAH A. LEVINSON

IDON'T THINK THAT I WILL EVER understand why Richard Thompson opened for a band. Thompson, arguably one of the greatest modern guitarists, has been involved in the music business since his tenure in English folk group Fairport Convention. He and his wife, Linda, recorded several critically-acclaimed albums together, and after their divorce, Thompson embarked on an equally well-received solo career.

Thompson's guitar skills are nothing short of amazing. Watching Thompson play is a depressing experience for fledgling guitarists like myself; his fingers dance along the frets, his picking hand barely seems to move, yet he manages to make one guitar sound like three.

He opened with "Turning of the Tide," a rollicking song from an earlier solo album, Amnesia. Most of his 45-minute set consisted of material from Rumor and Sigh, including a moving, emotional version of "1952 Vincent Black Lightning." Thompson even covered his "hits" ("That means it's been played on the radio at least once," he joked), playing "I Feel So Good" and "Read About Love," also from Rumor and Sigh. He performed little older material, however; "Shoot Out the Lights" was the only selection from his recordings with Linda.

At least Crowded House, the young group from Australia-via-Tasmania, recognized the magnitude of the star they followed on stage. After they finished jamming with Thompson on their song "Sister Madly," they bowed and scraped to him as he walked off stage.

Crowded House, with only three albums to their name, are relative newcomers, but they play a delicious blend of pop, folk and rock. Formed out of the ashes of Split Enz by singer Neil Finn, Crowded House recorded two albums, Crowded House and Temple of Low Men, before adding Finn's brother, Tim, to the lineup for the new recording, Woodface.

Both Finns have strong, sweet voices that blend well in harmonies, as in "Tall Trees," the opening song, or "Now We're Getting Somewhere." Tim Finn in particular shone in "All I Ask," the slow, jazzy ballad from Woodface, and the high falsetto notes of "Six Months in a Leaky Boat," the Finns' nod to their Split Enz fans.

The show drew evenly from Crowded House's first two releases, with the band playing the entire first side of Crowded House, and a good half of Temple of Low Men. Curiously, the only song from Crowded House's second side was the singularly depressing "Hole in the River," written by Neil Finn after his aunt drowned herself. Woodface, of course, received the most promotion, with Tim Finn, ever the showman, encouraging the audience to clap and sing along to "Chocolate Cake."

Crowded House's wry sense of humor played a large part in the show, beginning with drummer Paul Hester dropping his pants on stage during Richard Thompson's set (followed by Thompson dropping his during "Sister Madly"). There was a rubber chicken, a hat with devil horns and a megaphone on stage throughout the concert, and bassist Nick Seymour spent a few minutes offering an amusing comparison between the seat mix-up in the front row and Continental Airlines. ("Will you be having the vegetarian meal, sir?")

Previously that day, Crowded House performed acoustically on WFNX. They sounded wonderful there -- just harmonies and sparse guitar -- but during their concert, they sometimes got lost in the mix. Tim Finn's piano was never loud enough, and I wondered why the band bothered bringing out a roadie to play percussion on "Tall Trees," because I couldn't hear him at all.

Despite the technical problems, Crowded House and Richard Thompson put on a great show. I just couldn't keep from wondering why the bill wasn't the other way around.