Heading into the home stretch of his set in Higher Ground's Showcase Lounge April 24th, Graham Parker took no small pleasure spitting out some of the closing lines from "Local Girls," off his 1979 watershed album Squeezing Out Sparks: "Yes I'm aware of exactly what I'm doing/Making everything a mystery!" Which is not exactly the case because Parker is nothing if not provocative, elucidating his stances ever so emphatically there's no mistake knowing where he stands on any given topic, even if he goes after his target at an oblique angle.
So when, shortly thereafter, GP and his backing band The Figgs encored with an uproarious rendition of "Mercury Poisoning," a stream of venom ostensibly aimed at a former record label, his diatribe became all the more ironic as its rendered in a style late Seventies contemporaries such as Joe Jackson and Elvis Costello rode to fame and fortune. Seeing Graham Parker in 2010, diminutive, thin as a rail, in his the ever-present aviator shades, it's debatable he ever wanted such success or regrets missing it now. He's as comfortable in his skin and his niche as an artist could be, a good nature curmudgeon if there ever was one, but hardly the kind of character who can inspire a mainstream audience to embrace him. He's too prickly even when he's laughing self-effacingly at his instrumental prowess (or lack thereof).
But that doesn't deny Parker's ongoing prowess for writing great pop songs, only that his persona doesn't lend itself either to the warmth and comfort or slavish idolatry of the cult of personality. It's a gift to write a tune that is so irresistibly infectious that it inspires singing along, like "You're Not Where You think You Are" from his newly released Imaginary Television (the source of the sole stage prop: a small set on a stage showing nothing but snow all night). Or the soulful likes of "Human Soul," which allowed him to unfurl his dry reedy voice to its fullest extent in a demonstration of passion not at all uncommon this Sunday night.
Graham Parker's not shy about confronting that which renders him uncomfortable or vulnerable, which may be the grandest gesture of empathy he can offers his listeners. It's that kind of open emotion that's connected with his coterie of fans over the years and moved so many of the Vermont concertgoers to line up for autographs and photos at the merch table shortly after the show.