Perhaps I expected too much of Graham Parker live.
As a sophomore in high school in 1979, I was entirely, bitterly distraught that I was not able to go to Indianapolis to see Cheap Trick. They were white hot with the Budokan album, and I was feeling the apostolic flame of ROCK as only a teenager properly can. However, I did not have a drivers license, much less a car to drive the 60 miles into Indianapolis.
As a consolation, I bought an album by the opening act, some guy named Graham Parker. It was Stick To Me. Holy cow, was that record good. Heck, this guy was maybe even better than Cheap Trick. This made me only more bitter about having missed them.
This show was Parker's first known return to Indianapolis since then. Perhaps I had too much anticipation beyond reasonable expectations bottled up these decades. In any case, the show disappointed me worse than about any major act (by my definitions) that I've ever seen.
In fairness, he did a perfectly competent, professional show. He looks great, and his voice sounded about as good as ever.
The main problem was his selection of songs. He played hardly any of his good songs, seemingly perversely determined to play only his crappiest songs. He has a new album, Your Country. He insisted on playing most of it, and it just sucks. There wasn't a decent hook or memorable melodic line in any of it.
He even insisted on playing crappy OLD songs. I understand some of wanting to feature your new record, but he played several songs from the 1988 Mona Lisa's Smile album- without playing the one real memorable song ("Get Started, Start a Fire"). Why?
He played hardly any of his better known material. He's had exactly ONE honest-to-god Top 40 Billboard single: "Wake Up." Not mentioned.
Even the couple of songs he played from his better albums were the lesser known cuts, but I was glad to hear "You've Got to Be Kidding" and "Love Gets You Twisted."
One good song that he did play was "The Three Martini Lunch." He also answered my confusion. I know this from the classic and highly recommended Live - Alone in America album. I've never been able to find the studio version. This turns out to have been because there ISN'T one. That solo acoustic performance is the only one he's published.
As he played it here, the band arrangement gave this sad waltz a country flavor, with some pedal steel sounding guitar. That was a nice addition.
That was about the best contribution of his band, though. The Twang 3 are perfectly competent rock musicians, able to play a good basic shuffle and some reasonably fancy blues guitar. In other bands they'd probably do pretty good.
Together here, however, they came out totally without flavor. They were a generic "rock band." Partly that certainly comes from the bland, generic "rock songs" that they had to play. Part of it just seemed to be lack of personality.
It occurred to me somewhere mid concert that in honesty I've had more moving emotional experiences listening to local bar bands playing "Simple Man" at the bowling alley. They were playing better songs. Also, I didn't have to drive 60 miles to see them or pay a $10 cover charge. They also have CHAIRS at the bowling alley. It was a big project to find and capture a simple stool. Are we supposed to WANT to stand up ALL NIGHT?
One thing did go a substantial ways toward redeeming the show. For his encore, he broke out "You Can't Be Too Strong." Fully 25 years after the initial publication, this abortion ballad hits just as hard as it did in the day. It has perhaps the best melody he ever wrote, and the emotional core of the lyrics means as much as ever.
Unfortunately, Graham Parker lost that spark he was squeezing out in that song and album. Indeed, that was his peak, and he hasn't been the same since, for whatever reasons. I might should have been satisfied simply that he looked healthy and happy.
Still, after waiting 25 frickin' years and paying good money for the privilege, it'd be nice if he'd play the songs we're paying to hear. C'mon, work with us.
On the other hand, he was quite gracious after the show, and he autographed my vinyl copy of Howlin' Wind. Nice fellow.
To Al's Main Music Sustains the Soul Page
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