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Wreckless Eric grows up but stays irreverent

December 08, 2007|Sarah Tomlinson | Special to The Times

It might seem impossible to age gracefully and still be a punk. But English songsmith Wreckless Eric (Goulden) showed how it's done during a kinetic 90-plus minute set Thursday at Safari Sam's. Sporting white hair and dark glasses, he addressed the predicament of being an aging rocker of only moderate renown with hilarious asides, while refusing to deliver a nostalgia act, even as the crowd thinned.

It had been 27 years since Goulden played in L.A. And the fresh-faced punks and middle-aged fans in attendance were eager for songs from his late-'70s heyday. Then on Stiff Records with Elvis Costello and sometime band mates Nick Lowe and Ian Dury, his biggest hit was 1978's "Whole Wide World." The song was revived when Will Ferrell sang it in the 2006 film "Stranger Than Fiction."

His set found him mostly sticking to new material and songs by his girlfriend and songwriting partner Amy Rigby, a onetime Lower East Side punk chanteuse who now lives with him in France.

Trading off guitars, jokes and sweet-yet-tough vocal harmonies, the duo delivered a winning set. But the audience was a hard sell. Recent-vintage song "Same," from Goulden's 2004 album "Bungalow Hi," was nearly overwhelmed by crowd chatter during its spoken word opening, before Goulden's vocals and guitar grew fierce and loud. "This is what you're all here for, the money shot," Goulden joked before delivering his swinging 1978 classic, "Reconnez Cherie," with attitude and flair.

Rigby easily held her own, as Goulden added harmonies, on her resilient ballad "Don't Break the Heart" and offbeat rocker "Are We Ever Gonna Have Sex Again?," which was as funny as any Wreckless Eric song.

Goulden showed himself still a formidable performer on classics, including the moody rocker "Semaphore Signals" and "Whole Wide World," as well as newer songs such as "33s & 45s," a breakup lament part performance poetry, part rock howl.

Irreverent and ferocious as ever, Goulden showed he's the songwriter and performer he's always been, even if the rest of the world still hasn't caught on.

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