Words and Photos by Alex Kreutzer: www.louderphotography.com
“Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” Every now and then we’re reminded of the truth of a cliche; there’s a reason why certain phrases have become a part of our everyday vernacular. When Graham Parker picked up the phone and started calling the boys from The Rumour after more than 30 years, it’s hard to imagine he was truly expecting the outpouring of fondness from them or from the rest of the world. When the reunited band played at Musikfest Cafe in Bethlehem on April 5th, there was three decades of pent-up love emanating from both the band and the crowd.
In an age when most reunion tours feature one or two original band members and a supporting cast of mystery musicians, it was a blessing to see Graham Parker playing with the complete original lineup of The Rumour supporting him. The band had rehearsed at Musikfest Cafe for two days prior to the show to do some final warm ups for their tour, and their comfort at the venue and with each other was obvious. That 30-year hiatus remarkably didn’t leave much rust on the band, and at the same time, the entire group played with the enthusiasm of the young new wave/punk pioneers that they were so many years ago. There wasn’t a stale, overplayed note in the entire set, and both The Rumour and Parker seemed to be having a grand time reliving their youth.
If you’re unfamiliar with Parker, you’re missing out on one of the better songwriters out there. Seriously. He’s often lumped in and compared with Elvis Costello, another master (fairly so). Somehow Parker never managed to achieve the same level of commercial success as Costello, though his songs are just as well crafted. (My friend Tom, who I ran into at the show, told me about the last time he saw Parker playing solo, when after the post-show meet, he watched Parker load up his beat-up Honda Civic with New York plates and drive off…) The Rumour was the key band behind his definitive sound, and the show on Friday proved why.
Mike Gent of The Figgs opened the night on acoustic guitar. His performance was quite good, and he sarcastically acknowledged the fact that the crowd had little interest in hearing a solo acoustic guy right before Parker and The Rumour came out. The audience was supportive though, and Gent even honored a request or two from some fans in the know.
Parker and The Rumour took the stage after a brief intermission, and as they worked their way through both old and new songs, the band sounded as vibrant as anyone playing today. If anything, the age of the musicians has brought a maturity to their playing that only enhanced the performance. The fact that they haven’t been playing together for 30 years meant that the maturity was infused with the spark of a much younger group. There were hints of nostalgia in the delivery and Parker’s stage banter, but everything felt fresh and new. Parker’s songs hold up remarkably well to age; shocking, considering how dated so much music of the late 70’s and early 80’s sounds in comparison.
Classic Parker tunes such as “Watch the Moon Come Down,” “Soul Shoes,” and “Local Girls” had the crowd singing along. Newer songs from the band’s 2012 release “Three Chords Good” blended well alongside the older hits, and the audience responded enthusiastically to the new tunes. Highlights from the new album were the single “Long Emotional Ride” and the painfully true “Last Bookstore in Town.” The new songs have the same signature Rumours sound, but again, show a bit of maturity and growth.
While Parker seems to be basking in the love from the outside world (He’s prominently featured in the recent Judd Apatow movie “This is 40;” he’s also the subject of another upcoming documentary, “Don’t Ask Me Questions;” etc.), I’m hoping he’s really soaking up the good vibes from his old bandmates. They all seemed to have a great time on the first stop of their new tour, even gracing the audience with a double encore. If he likes the energy enough, there’s a good chance we won’t need to wait another 30 years to see the next Graham Parker and The Rumour tour. I don’t know if our hearts can that much absence…