In his first local concert in three years, British rocker Graham Parker showed off a more versatile vocal style and more convincing love songs at the Bayou last night. Instead of shouting his way through a show as he once did, Parker relied more on melodic and understated passages and saved his raspy yells for the climaxes. As a result, his tone was richer than ever, fitting his songs from his last two albums which he emphasized in last night's performance. Songs like "Jolie, Jolie" and "You Hit the Spot" combine his fierce anger at the world's love games with a genuine compassion for and commitment to his own lover.

This is also Parker's first tour without the Rumour. Only Brinsley Schwarz remains from the old band, and his guitar solos are now brief and intensely focused. The four American musicians--featuring guitarist Carlos Alomar and bassist Kevin Jenkins--supplied a choppy but precise dance beat that ranged from reggae to old-fashioned soul. With bold new arrangements of his old songs and live debuts for his new ones, Parker reasserted his position as one of rock's most important artists.

Billy Vera, L.A.'s equivalent of Billy Price, made his first D.C. appearance in many years to open the show. Known last year as Billy & the Beaters, Vera's nine-member band featured a crack four-man horn section and Vera's rich, grainy voice. The thick horn arrangements bolstered Vera's original songs, which fit right in with the Chicago and New Orleans rhythm & blues standards.

Parker returns to the Bayou tonight.