Last night power-pop heroes The Posies played the Khyber in Old City, Philadelphia, in support of their first studio album since 1998, Every Kind of Light. Opening were the fine groups Deathray Davies, Oranger, and Los Angeles indie band Earlimart, who put in a tuneful, well received but hard rocking set.
The Posies are the very definition of “criminally-overlooked” bands. A melodic, power pop band that came of age in Seattle in the early-’90s, they were simply the wrong genre at the wrong time and in the wrong city to see any mass-commercial success. Their music has proven to be far too lush and emotionally honest to otherwise crack the Top 40 world of pop music. The plus side for their cult following, however, is that you can still see them in intimate venues like the Khyber in front of 100-150 people on a Tuesday night.
The Posies’ founders Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer have had various rhythm sections over the years and are now gelling very nicely with Minwalla and bass player Matt Harris. The result is a revved up, often thunderous rock band that also happens to have produced some the most wonderfully structured and melodic music of the last 15 years. Even a song like the pop-punk thrasher Grant Hart, while utterly chaotic, still retains its near-perfect pop structure. If Good Charlotte ever heard these guys they might quit music on the spot.
Stringfellow and Auer each possess angelic vocals (they share lead vocal and songwriting duties) and harmonise better than anyone since Simon and Garfunkel. Yet, when they focus on the harder portion of their catalogue, as they often do live and most certainly did last night (much from Frosting on the Beater and Amazing Disgrace and only a handful from the latest album), they can be utterly pulverizing, as well, recalling more Cheap Trick‘s Live at Budokan than Simon and Garfunkel in Central Park. And the influence of The Who on power pop is never more evident than watching Stringfellow attack and thrash his guitar (often with Pete Townsend-like windmills) without missing a beat. Even the more composed Auer spontaneously throws his guitar around and produces some of the coolest guitar riffs in rock (see Solar Sister).
Somewhat surprisingly, nothing was played off of what many consider (myself included) to be one of the great power pop albums ever, 1991’s Dear 23, until after the crowd had pretty much been wiped out. Yet the effect was that the almost overwhelming beauty of songs like Any Other Way was only appreciated that much more.
Auer and Stringfellow are also current members of the legendary and reconstituted Big Star, whose new album happened to be released the same day as this show. Thus, the encore appropriately began with a cover of the classic ballad Thirteen. It was hard not to be moved not only by this beautiful song itself, but in seeing this “thing” created by Big Star still being carried along some 30 years later, proudly and more than capably.