Pixies, Primus, Pouges and The Posies. Alphabetically speaking the “P”s are really good for me. Being a compulsive music geek, I approached my music collection as orderly as I could. Fortunately for me the “P” phase of my collecting coincided with the release of The Posies’ album Dear 23.
You may not remember it. To tell you the truth, I didn’t really remember why I had liked them so much then. I tried to find my album, but realized it was in my pre-CD days; the boxes of cassettes were just too daunting. So I went out and picked up a copy of Amazing Disgrace from the used bin. On the disk are some great songs, notably: “Ontario,” “Throwaway” and “Please Return It,” all of which they played on Thursday night. Another favorite of the 1996 album is “Hate Song” with Robin Zander & Rick Nielsen from Cheap Trick adding some music and vocals.
At this point I liked them again but still couldn’t remember why I had loved them 10 years ago. I was prepared to chalk it up to youthful infatuation and half expected to see aging hipsters, like my disappointment in seeing Gene Loves Jezebel a couple years ago. It was sad, really sad.
This is about where I picked my chin up off the floor and tried to fight my way through the crowd of die-hard fans who seemed to come out of the woodwork for this show. Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow, equally lead this band in an incredible sort of unified musical dance. It is difficult to hear where one starts and the other begins.
The show they put on was incredible. In the intimate venue at Berbati’s Pan, it almost seemed as if I had happened upon a private party for the band’s closest friends. The audience was primarily made up of loyal fans that knew every word to every song and seem thrilled to be there. One lovely young woman, with long dark hair and intricate body illustrations, kept the band in drinks all night from her tab at the bar. A couple of times, overcome by affection for the band, she joined them onstage and passed kisses around to the band members who took all of this adulation in stride. I have seen bands that have handled this sort of cult worship by either removing the fan from the stage or berating them. It is nice to see it handled with class and humor (plus they got free drinks).
The evening ended, or could have ended, with “Ontario,” but the audience clapped and stomped and did what audiences used to do regularly in the ’80s to show appreciation. I had looked at the play list over the roadie’s shoulder and knew they planned three more songs, so I stood smugly by the bar – unimpressed by the encore. They played “Cosmos,” “Please Return It” (one of my favorites) and another, before exiting the stage again.
The audience did it again. Really, an encore. They just wouldn’t leave. I think I was more surprised than the band. They came back out and played several more songs, including “Suddenly Mary.” Finally, Stringfellow thanked the audience again and the young woman who was so enamored with the band and begged off because of intoxication. When I left Berbati’s, one of the very nice staff told me it was after two.
If you missed the show, you can pick up the newest disk from The Posies, Nice Cheekbones and A Ph.D. It won’t be quite the same however, because Auer and Stringfellow go at it with acoustic guitars, rather than electric. While the music on the disk is not really representative of the live show, the music and vocals are as beautiful. The song “Chainsmoking in the USA” is one of those catchy, witty songs that will haunt you for years, probably causing you to hum it at inappropriate times. The live version of the song was wonderful as well, with Stringfellow alternating between keyboard and guitar and Auer on vocals. Probably the most disappointing fact about the disk is that is limited to five songs. All of the songs are wonderful, and I would venture to say that “Chainsmoking in the USA” by itself alone warrants the $10 price tag.
“Matinee” is light acoustic indie-pop. “With Those Eyes” and “No Consolation” both are slower songs with strong vocals and lyrics that seduce the listener. While the final track, “Lady Friend,” finishes on a more upbeat pop note but with out leaving behind the wonderful lyrics and vocals we have become accustomed to from The Posies. While I didn’t hear the band form my forgotten past, I found them reincarnated into a new band. While The Posies keep reinventing themselves, listening to them becomes like running into a high school sweetheart who is even better than the boy you remembered.
What remains constant about the band is the central membership of founding friends Auer and Stringfellow. They have a long history together. The two musicians were grade school chums from Bellingham who began to play together musically even before junior high.
Fans of XTC, the two guys were happy to sign with the band’s loyal label Geffen under the new imprint, DGC. The Posies, along with John Doe (of X) and Sonic Youth, became the new label’s first acts. In September of 1990, Dear 23 was released, and immediately radio stations began playing tracks like “Golden Blunders” and “Suddenly Mary.”
Interestingly, Ringo Starr did a cover of “Golden Blunders.” Funny isn’t it? One of the Liverpudlians doing a cover of some guys from Seattle. In addition to work as The Posies, both Auer and Stringfellow were part of the original “industrial-noise,” Sky Cries Mary. They both play in the reformation of Big Star with original members Alex Chilton and Jody Stephens.
At what was to have been the end of The Posies, when they lost their major label deal, they released one final album, Success. Stringfellow’s solo debut, This Sounds Like Goodbye, was issued at the same time. Last year a compilation of their Geffen material and a posthumous live collection were so well received that Auer and Stringfellow reunited for an acoustic tour of America. The live recordings from this tour, In Case You Didn’t Feel Like Plugging In, were released in August.
If a road trip sounds like fun this summer you may want to check out the acoustic show on June 28. Auer and Stringfellow will perform at Wild Buffalo House of Music located in Bellingham, Wash.