CD+DVD Reviews

Graham Parker and the Rumour – Live at Rockpalast 1978 + 1980 – MIG Music (2 CDs & 2 DVDs)

An angry young man when he was still young and angry.

Published on October 1, 2012

Graham Parker and the Rumour – Live at Rockpalast 1978 + 1980 – MIG Music 90492 2CD/90497 2DVD, CD 1: 74:59, CD 2: 60:13; DVD 1: 81:56, DVD 2: 63:11 ****:

(CD/DVD 1: Graham Parker – vocals, guitar; Brinsley Schwarz – guitar, backing vocals; Martin Belmont – guitar, backing vocals; Nicky Hopkins – piano; Andrew Bodnar – bass, backing vocals; Steve Goulding – drums, backing vocals
CD/DVD 2: Parker; Schwarz; Belmont; Bodnar; Goulding; Bob Andrews – keyboards, backing vocals; Albie Donelly, John Earle – saxophone; Dan Ellis – trombone; Dick Hanson – trumpet)

For a short time, Englishman Graham Parker was the archetypal angry young man; a working class musician (his job resume includes factory employee and gas station pump jockey) who appealed to rock music critics, fans tired of euro-pop, disco and prog-rock, and anyone who hankered for intelligent lyrics and soulful rock music with pre-punk panache. Parker emerged from Britain’s early ‘70s pub rock scene and fused the sinewy strength of the Rolling Stones, Van Morrison and Bruce Springsteen, balancing his prickly wit and furious passion with forceful rock & roll and declarative folk-rock. Initial releases such as Howlin’ Wind and Heat Treatment (both 1976), Stick to Me (1977), The Parkerilla (1978) and Squeezing Out Sparks (1979) drew on rockabilly, US soul music, roots-oriented material, classic RnB and more. But as the Reagan era trundled on, Parker’s career was eclipsed by likeminded artists such as Elvis Costello (who was more media-hyped and had more attraction to burgeoning new wave scenesters) and Joe Jackson (who had superior pop smarts and ultimately more sophistication: check out 1982’s Night and Day).

1978 and 1980 were good years for Parker and his boiling-hot backing band the Rumour (which comprised fellow pub rockers Brinsley Schwarz, Martin Belmont and other aces). Parker’s records were increasingly selling to a discerning and growing audience; and his tours were a showcase for his punchy lyrics and muscular music. Parker was not a star, but his concerts were a stellar example of fervent vocals and ardent musical backing, which permeate the separately sold but complementary 2-CD and 2-DVD Live at Rockpalast 1978 + 1980 releases, which probably should be bought together. The CDs have the same material as the DVDs (which are slightly lengthier due to opening and closing credits and introductions); the audio and visual portions certainly enhance each other.

Oddly, both packages are not in chronological order. CD 1 and DVD 1 offer Parker’s October 18, 1980 performance at the 7th Rockpalast Night at Grughalle Essen, taped for German television and for European radio broadcast (the evening also featured the Police and Jack Bruce’s then-current group); the second compact disc and DVD include tunes from Parker’s January 23, 1978 stage show recorded at the WDR Studio L in Cologne, Germany. Most, if not all, of this music has been available as cheaply-produced bootlegs for years, so it is great to finally hear the remastered music in its full glory.

The 1978 gig contains songs from Parker’s three ‘70s albums and is more soulful than the 1980 program due to the inclusion of a horn trio, and a set list which slants more toward Parker’s soulful side, with titles such as “White Honey,” “Soul on Ice” and “Heat in Harlem,” which display Parker’s penchant for decoding American soul music within his own style. “White Honey” moves and grooves like Moondance-period Van Morrison, with rock and jazzy undertones offset by Parker’s nostalgic look at celebrating good times in an urban milieu. The other two numbers are less successful: “Soul on Ice” lingers too much despite the Rumour’s tight interaction, and “Heat in Harlem” is about four minutes longer than needed, overdone and overblown by Parker’s theatrics. On the other hand, the Sun Records homage “Back to Schooldays” revolves with vim and vigor; and the equally stirring “Stick to Me” is an ascending deposition of dedication against an ever more adverse world. Parker and the Rumour impart reggae and  English dance hall inclinations on the philosophical “Don’t Ask Me Questions,” Parker’s dispirited yowl of angst; and Parker lets loose on his interpretation of Ann Peebles’ 1974 Memphis soul single “I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down,” later a pop smash for blue-eyed soulster Paul Young. Parker concludes with a potent horns-spiked cover of the Trammp’s 1976 hit “Hold Back the Night,” where Parker’s Van Morrison tendencies come to the fore: this is white soul as only Parker could deliver.

The 19-track 1980 show is leaner and focuses on then-current release The Up Escalator (the band runs through eight out of ten pieces from that album: the live material from The Up Escalator far outshines the studio versions, which were marked by murky sound and a mediocre mix). The horn section is gone as well as the Rumour’s keyboardist Bob Andrews (who was replaced in the studio and on stage by English session player Nicky Hopkins): this turned out to be the Rumour’s final tour with Parker, as well. There are some holdovers from the 1978 gig, consisting of a tougher rendering of “Howlin’ Wind” and a fast-paced reading of “Don’t Ask Me No Questions” (the band races along behind Parker as if fueled by high-octane gasoline). Other memorable moments include then-recent sizzlers such as new wave thumper “Discovering Japan” (about jet-lagged cultural collisions) and the persuasive relationship examination “Passion Is No Ordinary Word,” where Parker cuffs out his words like an audio slap to the cheek. Broken hearts and wilted romance pervade several cuts, such as the withering comedown “Beating of Another Heart,” the punk-flecked, nihilistic “Empty Lives” and the pummeling “Can’t Get No Protection,” where Parker tosses out embittered lines such as “Your love letters are confetti, I ripped them up, my hands were sweaty.” Journalists and listeners often compared the Rumour to Bob Dylan’s one-time support group, the Band; but the Rumour and Parker evoke other Americans when they briefly romp through Little Feat’s “Tripe Face Boogie,” an apex which comes near the end of the 1980 show. This was the way to hear Parker and the Rumour, as definitive rockers who could bring down the house in any venue.

The filmed portions on the region zero DVDs expose their age. While there is no video tearing (considering how old the videotape is, it’s a miracle how clear the picture looks), there is a bit of streaking due to the use of analog video gear: no worse than anything else from the same timeframe, though. The camera crew, however, does get an assortment of medium and close-up footage which reveals the taut communication between Parker and the Rumour. Overall, the 1978 show looks and sounds better: the 1980 appearance evidently was not as precisely controlled as the 1978 WDR concert, and the filmed and recorded circumstances are somewhat less than perfect. There are no DVD extras, but both the DVD and the 2-CD jewel box have the same, eight-page liner notes/photos booklet. One caveat: the DVD box has an awkward stacked design which forces viewers to extract both DVDs in order to pull out the second DVD, with tiny push buttons which do not operate well. This reviewer eventually transferred the DVDs into a different DVD container.

TrackList: 

CD/DVD 1: Stupefaction; No Holding Back; Jolie Jolie; Love without Greed; Discovering Japan; Passion Is No Ordinary Word; Howlin’ Wind; Thunder and Rain; Manouvers; Don’t Get Excited; Beating of Another Heart; Empty Lives; Devil’s Sidewalk; Endless Night; Can’t Get No Protection; Nobody Hurts You; Don’t Ask Me No Questions; Tripe Face Boogie; Soul Shoes.
CD/DVD 2: Heat Treatment; White Honey; Soul on Ice; Back to Schooldays; Heat in Harlem; Fool’s Gold; Watch the Moon Come Down; Thunder and Rain; Stick to Me; I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down; Don’t Ask Me No Questions; Not If It Pleases Me; The New York Shuffle; Soul Shoes; Hold Back the Night.

—Doug Simpson




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