A few years ago, I had the chance to see Graham Parker (solo) live in a small venue and his show was explosive with an energy that filled the place and kept the audience cheering. While Parker may not be quite the household name he deserves to be (the singer/ guitarist has scores of truly great songs) there are a number of truly die-hard fans of Graham Parker and his best-known band The Rumour out there, including, it would seem, director Judd Apatow.
During the shooting of Apatow’s 2012 film This is 40 (“The Sort-of Sequel to ‘Knocked Up’”), Apatow had the now-reunited Graham Parker & the Rumour perform live for the first time in 31 years for a scene in the film. Fans of the singer, band and even their separate incarnations can rejoice, as the full, fifty-minute concert film (also directed by Apatow) finally sees release as a Blu-Ray/ DVD combo pack in August 2013.
This is 40 star Paul Rudd excitedly introduces the band to the crowd at Los Angeles’ Belasco Theater and immediately the six-piece launches into their classic hit “Fool’s Gold”. Parker still looks great in his trademark aviator sunglasses and suit and even with the band’s now greyer appearance, they are just as technically proficient as ever. They also all look cool as hell, especially with the excellent lighting and the smart, non-distracting camera work of Apatow.
However, this proficiency doesn’t exactly translate to “passion” and the equally trademark energy of Parker doesn’t quite fill the room. This is a shame, as Parker’s voice has suffered nothing from the years of constant touring. He sounds as good today as he did in 1976.
This lack of electricity could be attributed to the fact that this is, in fact, a live recording without the benefit of studio production, however, Parker’s live sets are known for the very kinetic kick that the band so often lacks on this DVD. Luckily, the group gains back some momentum with the catchy classic “Local Girls”, a standout on the Blu-Ray, just as it is among Parker’s songs. This momentum is hard to maintain, however, as three songs later, the equally excellent track “Passion is no Ordinary Word” lives up to its name as Parker and the band seem to be in a race with each other to slow the song down and stay a few MPH behind the speed of the original version. In short, this rendition could use a little less “Ordinary” and a lot more “Passion”.
While not quite capturing the sparks they squeezed out in the original version of “Discovering Japan”, that song’s performance here is among the more thrilling and applause-worthy. Here, Parker is at his most excited and dynamic onstage, making use of the bright lights and moving crowd and setting his Telecaster aside for some mic-stand dancing. The final two tracks are the Rumour classics “Stupefaction” and “Soul Shoes”, both of which are closer to expectations than a great deal of the set and practically demand a sing-along. While the relative power of the finale leaves the audience (home and in-person) on a high note, one wonders why such a capable performer in front of such a proficient band would take almost the entire show to get to that point.
The key may be found in the songs from Graham Parker & the Rumour’s new album Three Chords Good, “Long Emotional Ride”, “Stop Cryin’ about the Rain” and “Three Chords Good” itself. These are, again, well-done songs, but are also slower tempo, more careful and less-rockin’ numbers that seem to show the introspective, more relaxed zone the band now occupies. Of course, there is absolutely nothing wrong whatsoever with slowing down, especially if we’re talking about good musicians and a great voice, but those same die-hard fans of Parker who have kept his live shows in business might expect a bit more from the classic songs that we all know he can still shred on.
While the Blu-Ray also contains a DVD version of the performance, there are no bonus features, nor does the feature include any songs from Parker’s post-Rumour career, or the Rumour’s post-Parker career (both of which are relatively extensive). To be fair to the fans and the band, there’s nothing truly wrong with any part of this performance and even with some disappointment, this is a highly recommended addition to the collection of any Parker and Rumour fan. Every note is proficient and the only “mistakes” are those that we can expect in any live performance.
On the other hand we could also expect some more raw energy especially on Parker’s most powerful tracks. Every song is good, but a few more great-sounding songs would make this first live show in 31 years from Graham Parker & The Rumour a truly landmark experience.