Parker, Mike Gent
Performing Arts Studio, April 8
Graham Parker, pigeonholed in the early ’70s as the archetypal
angry young British songwriter, may have mellowed some with
age. But you still shouldn’t piss him off by drunkenly hollering
for one of his most frequently requested songs, “Local Girls,”
while he’s trying to debut virgin material from his new album.
“Peanut gallery, shut up,” Parker snapped. He then turned
the request into a joke at the audience member’s expense.
“I’d love to do it,” he said, pausing. “But not in the Linda
Norris.” By the end of the night, however, Parker had acquiesced,
granting the disruptive fan’s wish with a rendition of the
Parker was agreeable like that from the start, seemingly in
a fine mood. He was dressed in a black button-down shirt and
yellow “skeet-shooting shades” that he joked about purchasing
on eBay. “I’m unaccustomed to playing classy joints like this,”
he quipped. With the exception of the drunken ruffian who
had managed to cop a buzz despite WAMC’s no-alcohol policy,
the seated crowd in the Linda Norris Auditorium was largely
well-behaved. It was a crowd that could appreciate subtlety,
and subtlety is often what they got.
his first song, “Watch the Moon Come Down,” a striking ballad
from ’77s Stick to Me album, Parker filled his set
with some of the lesser-known material from the breadth of
his recorded career. Pub-rocker “Silly Thing” and the Van
Morrison- influenced “Between You and Me” from Parker’s debut
album Howlin’ Wind made the set over more obvious cuts.
“Final Page,” a fatalistic gothic ballad that drew attention
to the starkness of the auditorium’s minimalist setting, appears
only on a limited edition live album, The Bastard of Belgium,
that Parker plugged as being for sale on his Web site. And
“Waiting for the UFOs” was an obscure choice, Parker admitted,
being the “silliest song” from his “alleged masterpiece,”
Squeezing Out Sparks.
Of course, there were also well-known numbers. After a shuffling
reggae version of Van Morrison’s “Have I Told You Lately,”
Parker encouraged the crowd to clap along to “White Honey.”
The late-’80s hit song “Get Started, Start a Fire” was marred
only by the overly enthusiastic drunken dude, who yelled out
lines before Parker’s turn to sing them. Guitarist
Mike Gent joined Parker onstage for the last portion of the
show, which contained in part the new material from Parker’s
upcoming album, Songs of No Consequence, set to be
released on Bloodshot Records in June. The new songs found
Parker joyfully returning to his acerbic roots with the brisk
barroom rock of “Evil” and “Chloroform.”
Opener Mike Gent of the Figgs (who formed 18 years ago in
Saratoga Springs), has a long history of working with Parker.
The Figgs first toured as Parker’s backing band in 1996. They’ve
joined him on several tours since, and Parker’s upcoming album
was recorded in collaboration with the band. Gent’s toned-down
electric set contained some notable covers (Husker Du’s “Green
Eyes,” Buffalo Springfield’s “Down to the Wire,” and Graham
Parker’s “Turned up Too Late”) as well as a few Figgs tracks.
Judging by the crowd reaction to the latter, there seemed
to be quite a few Figgs fans in the audience who knew the
words to songs like “Something’s Wrong” and “Look at Her (She’s
Walking Away).” Gent also showcased a couple of memorable
tracks from Brass City Band, the new album from his
other band, the Gentlemen.
Helsinki, April 7
You probably haven’t heard of Mikey Dread, but you’ve
heard him. Dread was the architect of the Clash’s forays into
dub-reggae (producing six tracks on Sandinista) and
produced UB40’s dub remixes; he’s collaborated with everybody
from KRS-One to Izzy Stradlin to Seal. In other parts of the
world he’s a legendary TV host and DJ. Last Thursday he brought
his Dread at the Controls band into Club Helsinki and blew
the little club into Jah-heaven.
Dread was a quietly imposing presence on the tiny stage: Tall,
skinny, with his dreads and beads and multicolored leather
hat and shiny coat, he sang, with a craggy but sublimely soulful
voice, songs from his 30-year hit-laden career.
Occasionally, a show is so perfectly delivered, nuanced beyond
any conscious comprehension, that one feels like a jackass
just trying to write about it. This was one of those. Sitting
about 15 feet from the stage (everything in Helsinki is more
or less 15 feet from the stage) I was struck at how good
everything sounded. And felt. Music doesn’t get to this place
by luck, or even by skill. I think it gets there by understanding,
by patience, and by magic.
The bass pushed and bubbled and droned, the drums were rock-wall
solid. The keyboard held the off-beats, and added the occasional
swirl of strings and wash of vintage organ. The two-piece
horn section (sax and trombone) played those classic reggae-ska
horn riffs we’ve all heard, part party-call, part drunken
lonely sailor; the horn guys’ inflections were instinctive
and dead-on, and their choices of drops seemed telepathic.
And when they weren’t doing horn fills they were doing sweet
call-and-response vocals. They were a cosmic machine, hitting
on all eight all the time.
Everybody mimicked dub reverb effects from time to time, and
Dread did a little live dub mixing on the fly by quietly issuing
commands: “OK, drums . . . drums and keyboards,” as instruments
dropped in and out of the relentless groove. Several times,
a small shift in instrumentation broke the tension so abruptly
the room erupted spontaneously in midsong whoops and cheers.
The dance floor was packed with folk moving in various states
of revelry. How many got or cared about the deeper meaning
of Dread’s music is an interesting inquiry; only the most
brain-dead could have left without getting something
positive. The vibrations were way too strong.
Down With Your Trad Old Self
Songs (37 South Main St., Vorheesville) was the place to be
last Thursday (April 7) to see a performance by Celtic folk
supergroup Tom Smith, Jim Byrne and Wattie Lees of groups
such as Shegui, Craobh Rua and Quadrille. During the performance,
they used instruments like uillean pipes, tin whistle, guitar,
mandolin and octave mandola. For more information about events
at Old Songs, visit www.oldsongs.org.