Graham Parker / Anne McCue – Duck Room (St. Louis, MO)
It’s been a hoot reading some of the reviews of Graham Parker’s latest album, Your Country, especially those that accuse the British-born, New York-based singer of jumping on the alt-country bandwagon. With all due respect to the venerable and puissant magazine you hold in your hands, one has to wonder how big a bandwagon there is to be jumped on. Do riches await Parker if he merely agrees to add a weeping steel guitar or tear-in-your-beer lyric to his music? And, further, is Parker even capable of that kind of calculation? This is the guy, after all, who once saw becoming a pub rocker as a bright career option.
The fact is, Parker’s music has always contained rootsy elements gleaned from a variety of genres, including R&B, soul, reggae, and yes, country. (Check out the rockabilly gallop of “Back To Schooldays” from Parker’s debut album, Howlin’ Wind.) If his current tour is a bit more alt-country friendly, it’s in large part due to the presence of his versatile trio of past and present Silos sidemen — multi-instrumentalist Tom Freund, drummer Konrad Meissner, and bassist/lap steel guitarist Drew Glackin — whom Parker has dubbed the Twang Three. (“They were named without their consent,” Parker told the audience on this night. “I put it up on the internet and it was too late to argue.”)
Parker’s show spotlighted songs from Your Country, including the self-deprecating “Anything For A Laugh”, the acid-tongued “Cruel Lips”, and his cover of the Grateful Dead’s “Sugaree”, most of which were accentuated by Freund’s mandolin, Glackin’s lap steel and/or Parker’s harmonica.
The 100-minute set featured a few of Parker’s better-known songs, such as “Fool’s Gold” and “You Can’t Be Too Strong”, but others, such as “Don’t Ask Me Questions”, “Mercury Poisoning” and his one Top 40 hit, “Wake Up (Next To You)”, were nowhere to be found. Instead, he pulled out some lesser-known gems — “Force Of Nature” from 12 Haunted Episodes, “She Never Let Me Down” from Acid Bubblegum, “I Don’t Know” and from The Mona Lisa’s Sister — which he said he hadn’t played since the tours for those respective albums.
Parker joked that he calls his style of music “Afro-Scandinavian.” At least that what he tells overcurious waitresses who find out he and his colleagues are musicians. “The Afro-Scandinavian Buddy Holly, that’s me,” he said.
For the finale, Parker twanged up “Crawling From The Wreckage”, the hit he wrote for Dave Edmunds. He finished with a cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Tell Me” — an appropriate choice, since the Stones’ brand of country honk is actually more in line with what Parker is attempting with Your Country than anything else.
Opening act Anne McCue performed without a band, but the Australian guitarist-vocalist made the most of the solo setup with a stark, emotionally vulnerable reading of “I Want You Back” (an original tune from her new album Roll, not the Jackson Five classic). McCue’s folkier side was represented by the defiant yet ultimately optimistic “Stupid”, but she seems to be more of a rocker at heart — a notion backed up by her attempt to fight off a debilitating cold with slugs of Jaegermeister between songs.
McCue pulled some amazing lead and slide guitar licks out of her black Les Paul on “Gandhi” and two covers: Jimi Hendrix’ “Voodoo Chile” and “Rock And Roll Outlaw” by Aussie band Rose Tattoo. Those songs would have fared better with backing musicians, but McCue proved she could do just fine on her own with the complex, cinematic original “Ballad Of An Outlaw Woman”.