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He’s Agreeable
By Kirsten Ferguson

Graham Parker, Mike Gent
WAMC 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 hit song.

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.

>From 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.

A Groove Thing

Mikey Dread
Club 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.

—Paul Rapp


Get Down With Your Trad Old Self

photo:John Whipple

Old 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.

 

 

 

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