BY DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Returning to the same stage at the Freight & Salvage where he recorded a live album in 2011, Graham Parker dazzled an intimate crowd of 500 people at the small Berkeley club Saturday night with a engaging 90 minute set.
The 68 year old British singer-songwriter is touring in support of Cloud Symbols, released in October, his 25th studio album in a career that started in 1976 .
Originally a product of London’s new wave scene that would also spawn the careers of Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson and Nick Lowe, Parker might be best known as the lead singer of the Graham Parker & the Rumour. The band put out its debut album, Howlin’ Wind in July 1976, followed just four months later by Heat Treatment.
But Parker and The Rumour’s true breakthrough didn’t arrive until 1979. The album Squeezing Out Sparks, featuring the hits “Discovering Japan,” “Local Girls” and “Nobody Hurts You” was voted album of the year by the Village Voice and is listed near the middle of Rolling Stone’s 500 greatest albums of all time.
Signaling the beginning of the peak of Parker’s career, and the most critically acclaimed, it’s follow-up, 1980’s The Up Escalator, was another unabashed hit. Produced by Jimmy Iovine and featuring guest vocals from Bruce Springsteen, it would be the last album he would record with The Rumour for over three decades.
Though subsequent albums such as Another Grey Area, The Real Macaw, Steady Nerves and The Mona Lisa’s Sister, all released between 1982 and 1988, continued to chart, the end of the decade also marked the end of heavy airplay for Parker. But the quality of his work and productivity would never wane.
While a reunion with The Rumour in 2012 after a 32 year break would produce a pair of superb but under-publicized albums, Parker was appearing in a solo acoustic setting Saturday night. The sold out performance would produce a mix of both the old and the new, weighing heavily on Squeezing Out Sparks and Cloud Symbols.
Opening with “New York Shuffle” from 1977’s Heat Treatment, Parker’s winsome but brash personality was on display throughout as he consistently shared antidotes with the crowd between songs. “Girl In Need” and “Ancient Past,” the first of four songs from the stellar new album would follow.
A series that included seven songs from Sparks was next, highlighted by a stretch that would see Parker play “Saturday Night Is Dead,” “Discovering Japan, “Love Gets You Twisted,” “Nobody Hurts You” and “Protection” in succession. Jokingly, he engaged the audience for help with the lyrics to the first cut as he blamed “senior moments” for a brief lapse of memory on just the second night of a tour that began in Sacramento only the day before.
“Howling Wind” and “White Honey,” the first song off his debut album, would close the set. Reappearing for a generous three song encore, Parker would again provide an overview of his career. Returning with “Brushes” off the new album, he revisited Sparks a final time with the reassuring “You Cant Be Too Strong” before capping his appearance with “Hold Back The Night” from Heat Treatment.
Parker’s solo acoustic tour continues tonight with a show at the Hopmonk Tavern in Novato.