I won’t go into the strange fable about how Judd Apatow got Graham Parker and the Rumour back together after 30-plus years, nor the long, strange history of Parker, one of our more prolific, accomplished, and cerebral songwriters, nor why he’s been relegated to obscure troubadour status for much of the last 20 years.
I will tell you that last Wednesday’s show in the Swyer Theater was one of the most breathtaking concerts I have seen in my life. Last November, I caught their second reunion show in Poughkeepsie; less than 30 seconds in, I realized I was weeping, overwhelmed by the truth of the sound. Last week’s show had that and more; to paraphrase Mike Eck, it was like riding in a car with an extremely skilled driver going very, very fast.
Not for nothing that in their heyday (1975-80) GP and the Rumour were often compared to the Band and the Rolling Stones, or that Bruce Springsteen famously said that this was the only band he’d spend money to see. They were that good. And, despite the fact that they now look like a bunch of retired college professors, they still are. The rhythm section of drummer Stephen Goulding and the incredible bassist Andrew Bodnar were locked down, especially on the shuffles and those white-boy reggae beats that they simply own. Guitarists Brinsley Schwartz and Martin Belmont and keyboardist Bob Andrews all spent as much time listening as playing, but when they each played it counted, and what they played was delicious. This was a perfect team of master craftsmen doing things better than anyone else.
Which brings us to Mr. Parker. First of all, damn, what songs he’s written. Daring, poignant, blunt, beautiful. . . . Second, having this band behind him and playing on larger stages allows Parker to be not just a singer, but an artist, a true artiste, maybe for the first time in his long career. And he wears it so very well. The one-time angriest of the angry young men still spits fire, but now it’s more directed, more knowing, and more tempered with wry humor and compassion. And when the anger and indignation are turned toward society’s foibles, nobody does it better. Parker stalked the audience on the Winston Churchill-quote-inspired “A Lie Gets Halfway ‘Round the World,” and repeated the ominous phrase, “We got a reader here. . . . Why you readin’?” in “Last Bookstore in Town.”
The audience could have been a bunch of long-of-tooth freemasons—overwhelmingly male, white and old, like me. And that’s too bad. The new “traditionalist” singer-songwriters and their fans, with all their affectations and studied brooding, could learn a lot about a lot from this guy and this band.