It’s been a week of notable “heritage” acts – Ian Hunter and X last weekend, and then Graham Parker last night at the Wilbur, reuniting after more than 30 years with the Rumour.
Parker was one of the fiercest of singer-songwriters to come out of the English pub-rock scene – even tougher, you might argue, than the most sardonic of the bunch, Elvis Costello. It wasn’t just the literate, corrosive wit of the lyrics, and not just their flow, but Parker’s delivery that made the difference. He bit into lyrics and shaped them with his mouth, bore down on them, made the consonants rattle and clack – “The Tokyo taxi’s braking/it’s screaming to a halt.” And the realizations poured out in a tumble of song: “I shouted sayonara/it didn’t mean goodbye.”
At the Wilbur, Parker (who has for the past several years lived near Woodstock,New York), was in personable form, joking with an enthusiastic dancer in the front row (“Are you by from the Fall River area, by any chance?”), remembering an offer from one of Aerosmith’s management teams (“You should open for Flock of Seagulls”), and arranging his hits and near hits with generous care (“From Squeezing Out Sparks, side one”).
The sound was beautifully balanced so you could catch every nuance of guitarists Brinsley Schwartz and Martin Belmont trading leads, and even most of those genius lyrics. Parker and the Rumour have an estimable new album out, Three Chords Good (Primary Wave), and they have supporting roles in Judd Apatow’s new movie, This Is 40. The songs and lyrics were all there (except for Parker’s most cutting diatribe, written for his former American label, “Mercury Poisoning”). Openers the Figgs (a frequent Parker backing band) joined in for the final encore. The band rocked, got the cabaret-seated crowd to its feet. If Parker’s delivery wasn’t as fierce as it once was, it was good to seem him up there, dancing, joking, in his element, and playing those great songs.