Graham Parker's new digital single "Dreamin'"
Graham Parker came to fame in the late 1970s fronting one of the best bands of the English new wave (The Rumour), yet remains one of the few bandleaders who’s just as good as a solo artist.
At New York’s City Winery Monday night he accompanied himself mostly on acoustic guitar, with a bit of electric and harmonica thrown in. Beginning with “That’s What They All Say” from his, second album Heat Treatment (1976), “I Discovered America” from 2007’s Don’t Tell Columbus and (appropriately) “The New York Shuffle” from 1977’s Stick To Me, Parker glided “up and down the big escalator” of his deep album catalog, his comment itself a reference to his 1980 album The Up Escalator, from which he sang “Love Without Greed.”
From his most recent “official” album--and second of two with the briefly reunited Rumour (2015’s Mystery Glue)--came “Long Shot,” while debut album Howlin’ Wind (1976) was represented by its titletrack. In between were such high points as “Discovering Japan” from Squeezing Out Sparks (1979), Heat Treatment’s “Hotel Chambermaid,” “Get Started. Start a Fire” from The Mona Lisa’s Sister (1988), “Three Martini Lunch” from the solo album Live! Alone in America (1989) and “Evil,” from Songs of No Consequence (2005), which he recorded with The Figgs, and which at City Winery retained its strong reggae rhythm guitar strum.
But Parker also retains his signature vocal edge—none the worse from decades of wear—not to mention his sardonic sense of humor. He was especially pleased to see so many ladies in the room, noting that at some of his gigs, “it’s all blokes.”
“Bring your f**king wives next time!” he laughingly railed at the unaccompanied males, then quoted Miles Davis’s admonishment, “When you play to just men you should quit!”
On a roll, Parker announced he would play a new song: “That’s the worst thing any audience can hear!” he bellowed. “But I don’t care!”
He noted that the song, “Dreamin’,” will be on a new studio album to be released later this year, and is available now on “all those streaming services [artists] don’t make money from!” But his performance of it, including his single kazoo “horn section,” showed that it’s up there with vintage Parker recordings and well worth the buck or so download.
He brought the evening around almost full circle with his encore cover of The Trammps’ R&B classic “Hold Back the Night,” from his 1977 EP The Pink Parker. The gig, incidentally, was part of his “City Winery Plus” tour of all six City Winerys, plus a few other dates to fill out the schedule (including, he said, one at a record shop in New Jersey with a stage made out of orange crates “that some bloke had the nerve to call a venue”). Because of Monday night’s full house, he’ll return to City Winery New York as part of the tour on May 21.