|Graham Parker & The Figgs - The Last Rock'n'Roll Tour
|Recorded live at Bogies, Albany NY, November 26 1996.
TRACK 1 - The pace is cracking right from the first song -- "Turn it into hate". Mike Gent in the left ear and Guy Lyons in the right build a wall of riffs and Graham, in fine voice, snarls through it -- a window onto his landscape of cynicism. It's a short sharp taste to start a hard rocking set of songs. Graham says "Breakdown!" to bring in the solos, one in the middle, and one to finish the song, as he sings "H.A.T.E."
His advice isn't negative. If something pisses you off, do something, or at least say something about it. "Turn it into hate" slides into "Don't let it break you down", from "Mona Lisa's Sister" where the message is similar. Stay strong, the world is fucked up, but don't let it fuck you up. Don't let it break you down. The song ends with a passage where Pete Donnelly's bass plays through the mix, the guitars bite and Graham sings "don't, don't, don't, ..." a kind of insistent scat which ends with a flare of chords.
Pete Hayes counts the band back in, "1, 2, 3, 4," cracking his sticks together and "Soul on ice" starts. The Figgs sound a lot like the Rumour here which was a hard act to follow. Their sounds (marginally) lacks the space between the notes the Rumour created. However, it's a good honest version of a song from the golden era "Stick To Me".
"Weeping Statues" is next, an obscure track off "Struck by Lightning," even though it contains the phrase which gave that record its name. This version rocks -- a solid, aggressive number, that gives a bit more penetration to Graham's strange surreal lyrics than the studio recording did -- the guitars have settled and the solos are assured, fast and scathing.
There's a break and a bit of patter -- it's great to hear Graham isn't losing his naff British accent. He introduces "Fools Gold", the original version rather than what he calls the "sea hag" version from GP and the Episodes "Live from New York, NY, on the 12HE tour, when the band did a version in 2/3 time that gave it more of a "sea shanty" air. [Thanks Sammy.] Once again a song we associate with the Rumour so it's obvious that Graham is happy to be back with a band that can do some of his harder rocking numbers. I suspect Graham is playing on this one -- I think I can hear the guitar in the middle -- the patter might have been to give him a change to change instruments.
[Jeff Penczak writes "GP introduced "Fools' Gold" during the 12HE tour by saying it was basically an old sea shanty tune. He imagined himself floating down the Thames with a warm bottle of McEwan's and an old "sea hag" on his arm. I think he even told this story at the Bottom Line shows that were recorded for the Live in NY disc, but, unfortunately as on TLR&RT, most of the good between song banter was edited out."]
Somebody mentioned his voice lacked a bit of passion, but to my ears his singing is more like it was back around the "Live Sparks" album, strong and straight down the middle. It is true that his voice was a lot more expressive on the solo tours and with the Episodes -- his voice had to carry the shows. In this case I think it's more of a "band experience".
TRACK 6 - A great version of "Local Girls". The best version of this song so far (to my ears). The song suits the band. There is a fine section where Mike plays arpeggiated chords (rapidly sounding the single notes). By this time you get the idea you're not going to hear any of the haunting, acoustic, wry and plaintive songs that Graham has written and performed in recent times. But then you didn't expect that did you, not with an album called "The Last Rock 'n' Roll Tour" slathered with garish pink and cut out letters recalling the Sex pistol's ransom note of the 70s. It's a rock 'n' roll night, no quarter given.
The band charges into another obscure song, "Daddy's a Postman" (from Human Soul). The song blisters with fast guitars, crazy rhythms and wonderful lyrics about a Norman Rockwell Saturday Evening Post style of white picket fence American family, the inheritors of the "golden arches". "Our life is so perfect it glows". Then the weird and sinister "Daddy's a postman." Why a postman I wonder? Is it the most normal possible occupation in this David Lynch (Blue Velvet) Donald Fagan (I.G.Y.) type world? Graham yells "Good morning campers" as the band goes into a sparse, treble ending that slides into .....
... "Impenetrable", one of the standout songs from the strangely incomplete-sounding "Acid Bubblegum". "Impenetrable" is a stand out track on this record too. The bass drives the song, with the kind of wailing guitar from "Hey Lord" weaving through the groove. Like "Hey Lord, don't ask me questions" the song is built on minors. No-one ever had a number one with a groove built on minor chords [don't flame me] but I could listen to them forever. Great song.
There is another break and a bit of patter (changing instruments?) during which Graham back announces "Impenetrable" as a "goth rock monstrosity" and checks the tuning on his guitar which he suspects he has "banged out of tune". But he's turned on the tremelo and it's impossible to tell anyway, as he says, "Just like you're never alone with a schizophrenic, everything is out of tune with a tremelo."
The song is "Sharpening Axes", another strong number from "Acid Bubblegum" which is about as slow tempo as we're going to get on this record. The mood is a cross between "Turn it into Hate" and "Don't let it break you down". Graham often reflects on his role as a social commentator, sometimes taking a swipe at critics. This time he refers to his songwriting craft as "sharpening axes".
From weird science to rockabilly lust; "Back Door Love" from "Heat Treatment. It's a swinging R&B number which ends with a country flourish.
I lied -- the pace does slow again, with another number from "Acid Bubblegum", "She never let me down". This one has minor and major sevenths -- chords that go with slow dancing. A competent if unspectacular solo from Mike, but plenty of searing flourishes over the long ending. Graham finishes with a "quote" singing the refrain "I put a spell on you."
TRACK 12 - A few shrieks from the audience and then that great intro from "Obsessed with Aretha". Hey ey ey.... This is one of the songs that has aged well for me. The sentiments are caustic and irreverent, just the way I like them and the chord progression insistent, chasing its tail and laying down a resilient bed for the leads to play through.
The pace goes up a notch with "Take Everything" from "Steady Nerves". This live version really makes this song for me, which I had completely ignored up to now. It has all the hallmarks of the "new wave" when Graham Parker, Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, Dave Edmunds, The Clash and The Damned (among countless others) doubled the prevailing time signatures and really pumped.
"Stupefaction" is from "The Up Escalator". Counted in by the drummer again, it's a sing along for everyone.
Then Mike Gent leads into "Soul Shoes" from Howlin' Wind, a classic. A fine solo from Guy Lyons, the big thumping bass sound drives the song and the whole band is very tight. It ends with classic lead guitar flourishes and rolls straight into a fast "Saturday Night is Dead". An excellent version. I'll have to take this one off my "least favourite" songs list.
Graham introduces the band and it's back to "Acid Bubblegum" with "Get over it and move on" -- which sounds as though it was always meant to be played live -- this version stomps all over the studio version.
"Cream" (the Prince song) seems to be an encore. It'd be interesting to know if this song was Graham's choice or the Figgs.
"My Glass Jaw" is from "The Real Macaw", an album sometimes referred to as "overproduced", which I think is characterised by the playing style and musical interests of Brinzley Schwarz. "My Glass Jaw" itself sounds a little like some of the tracks off the Rumour's solo effort, Frogs, Sprouts, Clogs and Krauts, which is no bad thing. "My Glass Jaw" slides into "Bubblegum Cancer".
Trailing off a little towards the end, the last Graham Parker song on the record is "Don't get excited". While this version doesn't live up to the one on "Squeezing out Sparks" it's a lively number to wrap up the show. Graham and the boys then do a rock 'n' roll tribute - a Chuck Berry tune, a garage-band pub-rock staple.
To sum up, a few observations and a couple of questions. If you look at it in three parts, the first third is strong, fast and energetic. The second third soars, and the final third closes out the set with a collection of strays, some fine tracks, and a couple of curiosities. If it's true that Graham played "Girl at the end of the Pier" I would have preferred that to either of the two covers, but I guess it just wasn't rock 'n' roll.
The songs from Acid Bubblegum generally shine, especially "Impenetrable" and "Obsessed with Aretha". Other highlights are "Weeping statues", "Local girls", "Daddy's a postman", "Take everything" and "Saturday night is dead".
The questions. Has Graham turned his back forever on his "acoustic" songs? Songs from 12 Haunted Episodes were noticeable by their absence. Is the next studio record, presumably with the Figgs, going to be a hard rocking record like this one? Will the band tour outside the US? Is the record getting airplay?