The ubiquitous dark shades have given way to slightly tinted aviators, and as the eyewear has lightened, so has Graham Parker's mood. But time -- he's 54 and has been recording since the '70s -- hasn't diminished the passion Parker brings to his distinctive combination of pop and pub rock.
At a sold-out Iota on a stormy Monday night, the British expat (he lives in Upstate New York now) played his classic rockers side-by-side with songs from his newest release, and you would have been forgiven for not being able to discern which was old and which was new.
Backed by the youthful rock quartet the Figgs, whose opening set of their own originals would have fit nicely on a Parker tribute album, Parker reeled off vintage numbers "Don't Get Excited," "Soul Shoes," "Stick to Me" and "Don't Let It Break You Down" with raw energy and the assurance of a veteran songwriter who knows his songs are vital, despite elusive mainstream success.
Some established singers might have been content to go the karaoke route, performing the familiar favorites with all the precision of a jukebox, but not Parker. This performance was designed to showcase the relevance of the new songs, and by the time he got to the new offerings "Vanity Press" and "There's Nothing on the Radio," a title that particularly recalls Parker's previous reputation as an angry artist, it mattered little that he wasn't going to do his only Top 40 song, "Wake Up (Next to You)" from 1985.
The playful between-song banter and self-deprecating humor -- he called the title of his new record, "Songs of No Consequence," "really, the story of my life" -- indicate there is a mellowness to his personality, but the songs remain as trenchant as ever.
-- Buzz McClain