Early doors: Graham Parker & The Flaming Lips at Rock City (+ a bit about Prince)

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Four gigs in nine nights made for this year’s big gig week (if you take the Beatles’ definition of a week and add one). Courtney Love is reviewed below. Great to see Prince from up close at Leeds Arena on the Friday – a loud set, full of hits, with a gang including my nephew Declan, who was in the womb last time he saw Prince (1990). It was the best Prince gig I’ve seen since my first one (1988’s Lovesexy tour, in the round). No idea how good the seats are in the round at the First Direct Arena, but the small yet roomy front standing section is a treat.

I nearly sold my ticket for last night’s Flaming Lips gig at Rock City. Didn’t intend to go in the first place, as it was scheduled for the arena, and I was teaching until 8.30, which made the likely arena start time of 8.30 or 8.45 unfeasible. But the move to Rock City meant a more intimate gig and later start, so I persuaded my students to start and finish fifteen minutes earlier and bought a ticket. Then, on the day, it was announced that the gig started at 8, with the support on stage at 7. Ridiculous. Rock City never used to have headliners on before nine, with 9.30 more common. Why, Primal Scream once didn’t come on stage until midnight, finishing at 2. You could just about justify the early start for Graham Parker, whose fans are near his age, but the Lips fan base is primarily in its 30s. Courtney was on at 8.45. An 8pm start is not rock’n’roll – and people arriving at the arena for 7.30 (the support time on the tickets would be lucky to get there in time. Indeed, I met people afterwards who’s missed the beginning, fooled by the early start.

As did I, but I was glad that I got there half an hour in, missing five songs. For the set, from ‘Watching The Planets’ on, found the Lips in great form, superbly staged (we got the full arena light show with masses of draped, plastic, fluorescent cords, which looked spectacular), playing mainly new material that I hadn’t heard live before and made much more sense in concert. My first time seeing them, at the same venue 17 years ago, when they were on a double bill with Mercury Rev, I stood dead centre at the front when they came on and played the only song of theirs I knew, ‘Race For The Prize’, and was instantly converted. This time, when they went into the same song at the midway point, I made my way to the small mosh pit at the front. By the end of the set, I was back where I was 17 years ago (and the night before, for GP) with my mate Roy, watching them do an exhilarating ‘Do You Realize’ and fantastic ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’. Here’s Sean’s review from The Post.

Even downsized, the gig wasn’t quite sold out, something to do with the recession and an over-supply of tempting shows, I suspect (though those early start times can’t help). In stark contrast to the crowded Leeds 02 last year, there were only a few hundred there for Graham Parker the previous night. What follows is a slightly extended version of my review in today’s Nottingham Post.

Graham Parker’s renaissance has been a long time coming. The 63 year old singer/songwriter reunited his classic 70’s band The Rumour for a well received reunion album and tour last year. A documentary showed old rockers from Springsteen on down raving about what a great album 1979’s Squeezing Out Sparks is. I suspect this second, short UK reunion stint has to be fitted into half term, because drummer Steve Goulding is a teacher. Nottingham gets the first date.

Support, Squeeze front man Glenn Tilbrook, if anything a bigger star than GP takes the stage at a ridiculous early 7.15pm. ‘I’m not used to doing a half hour set’ he says and, while he’s OK, it shows. We get a mix of solo and Squeeze, highlight ‘Up The Junction’, but it’s not a patch on the solo show I reviewed at The Rescue Rooms a few months ago.

Parker takes the stage just after 8. He’d been rehearsing in Nottingham for two days and is in a relaxed, ebullient mood throughout. The Rumour are in stellar form, as strong in their unique, soulful style as the E Street Band are in theirs. They blast through ‘Fool’s Gold’, ‘Hotel Chambermaid’ and ‘White Honey’, but the early show highlight is ‘Start A Fire’, a Parker solo song (from Mona Lisa’s Sister) that always cried out for the Rumour treatment.

‘Howling Wind’, ‘Watch The Moon Come Down’ and ‘Lady Doctor’ all go down well. There are many changes to last year’s setlists, with ten songs dropped (but one new one added), including a lot of the new album ‘Stupefaction’, ‘Passion Is No Ordinary Word’ and, sadly, ‘Heat Treatment’. However, new inclusions ‘Stick To Me’, ‘Nobody Hurts You’, ‘Pouring It All Out’ and ‘Love Gets You Twisted’ are highlights of the 100 minute, rapturously received, 22 song set.

Squeezing Out Sparks provides the heart of the show’s concluding section, with the brilliant ballad ‘You Can’t Be Too Strong’ revived for the first encore. I called out for this bruising, self-lacerating title song about a tour girlfriend’s abortion (The doctor gets nervous completing the service, he’s all rubber gloves and no head) in Leeds,  I’d waited 35 years to hear him play that song, and – superbly performed in the original arrangement – it didn’t disappoint. ‘Soul Shoes’ brought the set to a lively, if ridiculously early (twenty to ten!) close. Photo at top by Nigel Cooke, to whom, thanks.

Graham Parker & The Rumour – You Can’t Be Too Strong

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