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Graham Parker and The Figgs - World Cafe Live (Philadelphia, PA) - Sunday, May 2, 2010

8 May 2010

GRAHAM PARKER is one of my favorite artists of all-time. I’ve seen him play both solo and with a band at least twenty times going back to the mid ’90s, so perhaps I’m a harsher critic than someone less familiar with his music might be.

With all that said, this was the first time that I’d seen Parker since 2007, when he released Don’t Tell Columbus. On that tour, he was backed by a band jokingly referred to as the “half” FIGGS since Figgs guitarist MIKE GENT was on drums and then guitarist BRETT ROSENBERG was also in the band. Additionally, they were joined by keyboardist SCOTT JANOVITZ, who would also make an appearance on this evening as a member of The Figgs. Thus, only bassist PETE DONNELLY and drummer PETE HAYES were missing from the 2007 band, but on this occasion, Gent, Donnelly and Hayes were joined by Janovitz and all of them backed Parker much as they did on previous tours in 1996, 2001 and 2005.

Still, this wasn’t the explosive show documented on 1997’s The Last Rock and Roll Tour or even 2005’s 103 Degrees in June. I’d been perusing setlists from previous stops on this tour and was excited that Parker was playing lesser-known and generally neglected material from his unfairly maligned ’80s records along with a few ’90s gems as well as a slew of songs from his recently released album Imaginary Television. However, it turned out that while the main set was enjoyable, it worked a bit better on paper than it did in reality. While it was thrilling to hear chestnuts like “Life Gets Better” (from 1983’s The Real Macaw) and “My Love’s Strong” (from 1989’s Human Soul) as well as obscurities like “Black Lincoln Continental” (from 1985’s Steady Nerves), the show just never picked up real momentum until the encore. Still, some of the more upbeat numbers, such as “Turn It Into Hate” (from 1996’s Acid Bubblegum) and the one-two punch of “Local Boys” (from 2005’s Songs on No Consequence) and “Local Girls” (perhaps his most well-known song), worked really well.

But on this night, it was the encore that really thrilled. Starting with two songs from his 1976 debut Howlin’ Wind (a full-band “Soul Shoes” and a version of “White Honey” featuring just Parker and Gent), they proceeded to blast through an encore containing an awesome version of “Mercury Poisoning” (the all-time greatest kiss off to a label ever), the 1988 college radio hit “Get Started (Start a Fire)” and even an inspired version of the SAM THE SHAM AND THE PHAROAHS hit “Wooly Bully”.

Overall, I’d have to conclude that The Figgs are better are playing the more rockin’ stuff than they are the more mid-tempo, folk-ish material found on much of Parker’s later albums.

As per usual whenever they’ve backed Parker, The Figgs opened the show by playing their own material. Always an enjoyable live act, on this night their set benefited greatly from World Cafe Live’s crystal clear sound. They even covered THE WHO‘s “Happy Jack” and THE KINKS‘ “Victoria”, turning the latter into a sing-a-long not that far removed from THE FALL‘s wonderful 1988 version, not to mention SONIC YOUTH‘s as well.