An unprecedented thing happened while walking into Landmark to attend a double bill of Garland Jeffreys and Graham Parker on Saturday, April 22: I was approached by someone outside trying to buy tickets. It’s almost a decade since I’ve been attending shows at Landmark, but this was a first, and perhaps indicates the level of performers who are now appearing on the stage. Needless to say, I didn’t give up my tickets.
The first half of the show featured Garland Jeffreys, an amazingly dynamic performer with over four decades in the business. Jeffreys is currently riding a wave of critical acclaim from his most recent CD – “The King of In Between.”
Jeffreys is an intelligent songwriter, often tackling issues of race (he himself is part Puerto Rican and part African American, however, he could have been Italian, Jewish, or any other dark curly haired native of Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn). His interest in race issues was perhaps best exemplified by the song “Hail, Hail Rock ‘n Roll,” which included the lines: “the color of you, the color of me, you can’t judge a man by looking at the marquee.” The man has enormous energy and passion for his work – jumping off the stage and running into the audience several times, and at one point crawling on the stage as he sang. Jeffreys did several songs from his new CD, including his two opening numbers “I’m Alive” and “Coney Island Winter.” Highlights of the show included the aforementioned “Hail, Hail,” a beautiful, guitar-only version of “Spanish Town,” and an amazingly rocking cover of Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall.” He closed with his 1980 hit, a cover of Question Mark and the Mysterians’ “96 Tears.” Jeffreys’ band, consisting of two guitarists (one of whom also played keyboards) a bass player and drummer, were excellent, and seemed equally as enthusiastic as their leader.
Graham Parker, who had the second half of the show, was equally talented, yet wholly different. Parker, an Englishman with a sound similar to Joe Jackson and Elvis Costello, actually was their predecessor. His backup band, The Figgs, includes a guitarist, drummer, bass and keyboardist, and Parker plays the guitar as well. He was quite entertaining – perhaps not intentionally – launching into periodic rants about his dislike for cupcakes and the sorry state of 1980s music. For the most part, Parker’s peppy pop songs were up-tempo numbers that incited unconscious toe-tapping among the audience. Parker’s voice is perpetually youthful and angst ridden, a la Joe Jackson. Highlights of his set included “Get Started, Start a Fire,” and “Under the Mask of Happiness” from the 1988 CD “The Mona Lisa’s Sister” and “Bad Chardonnay” and “Dislocated Life” from the 2005 “Songs of No Consequence.” (Parker’s keyboard player also played mandolin on “Dislocated Life.”) Parker’s encore was the beautiful “Blue Highways,” played on just guitar.
Though their sounds are dissimilar, there are several things that are the same about Graham Parker and Garland Jeffreys – both have been performing for decades and have a prolific amount of material, both have been somewhat underappreciated, and both just get better with age.