Sunday, June 14, 2009

Concert Review: The Posies (peforming Frosting on the Beater), The Bell House, New York City, June 12

The recent explosion of bands performing full albums live--most notably with the Don't Look Back concert series--has been an interesting new way to focus on the album as a whole piece of work in an era when record sales are down and downloads and shuffle options guide a new generation to think in terms of single tracks. Choosing to do one of these shows is also something of a statement that an artist wants to hold an album up as a classic, or at least their best work, and can be a way to honor underrated albums deserving of more recognition.

The Posies' performance of Frosting on the Beater was an excellent way to elevate both an unheralded classic album and the one of the most severely underrated rock bands of the modern era. They left a string of great albums and should-have-been-hit-singles but never caught on commercially, despite swimming in power-pop cred (we're talking "Ringo Starr covers one of your songs and a Big Star reformation enlists your songwriters and singers" levels here.) Their only flaw was that their music was made for the wrong era, so one of the little ironies of their career is that their most successful and popular album was the one that coated their melodic songwriting in layers of grunge distortion.

It also happens to be their best album, however, and particularly well-suited for a live treatment. Their strongest songwriting meant an hour of sing-alongs, backed by some alternative rock sheen for a little headbanging. The opening four songs salvo is one of the best stretches of guitar-pop of the nineties, and big rockers like "Definite Door" or the era's quiet/loud dynamic on "Lights Out" punched the songs up live.

The band's rotating rhythm section has long since left the album's original players behind, putting the focus squarely on songwriters/vocalists/guitars Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow. Auer, who takes the lead on most Frosting songs, was by far the looser performer of the two. While Stringfellow's voice has held up enough to match the records well, Auer's voice seems a bit higher and more nasally than the recordings, and has lost a bit of the deep, breathy quality it used to have. Auer also does most of the lead guitar work, and worked up some good squealing noise for the noisy jam ending of "Burn and Shine" and the drumless "Coming Right Along." For his part, Stringfellow ricochets around the stage and bounces like his legs are pogo-sticks, and the frequency and intensity with which he spits (occasionally soaking the front row) would be impressive for a 20-something punk rocker, let alone a guy who's been in a band called the Posies for two decades.

The second set/encore skewed heavily towards the Frosting follow-up Amazing Disgrace, highlighted by the fierce Stringfellow rocker "Everybody is a Fucking Liar." (A few requests for that song mid-way through the set elicited the Stringfellow gem "Hey, Jon, after the last twenty seconds did you have any doubt we're in the New York area?")

The atmosphere on stage was as loose and fun as the playing, with the band retuning and cracking jokes between nearly every song--most notably a brief running gag about Bret Michaels' recent injury at the Tony Awards, including a "moment of silence." The mood from the unappreciated band before and after the show: Auer joked to the front row about missing roadies as he set up his pedals before the show, and the guys were not too famous to work their own merch booth after the show. They still deserve better--the performance would have, and should have, played just as well to a few thousand instead of a few hundred--but the show was a fitting tribute to a gem of an album.

Set One (Frosting on the Beater):
Dream All Day
Solar Sister
Flavor of the Month
Love Letter Boxes
Definite Door
Burn and Shine
Earlier Than Expected
20 Questions
When Mute Tongues Can Speak
Lights Out
How She Lied by Living
Coming Right Along

Set Two (Encore):
Start a Life
Please Return It
Everybody is a Fucking Liar
You're the Beautiful One


Frantz Cafre K said...

Man I would have loved to see that. I live on a tiny island and I travelled 13000 kms last year to see them play in duo... caught them in Antwerp, and it was amazing.

I envy you guys for witnessing this. Definitely one of the lost american treasures. Oh and you forgot the "I play guitar for R.E.M." thing, to add to the pop-cred bill.

DigMeOut said...

Listen to a podcast interview with Ken Stringfellow of The Posies on Dig Me Out at, a weekly podcast dedicated to revisiting lost and forgotten rock of the 90s.