Two of The Posies at The Hamilton

PosiesFor a band celebrating its 30th anniversary of making music, The Posies initial tour of 2018 is pretty austere, features only founding singer songwriters Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow on electric guitars.

Later this year, three of their 90s albums, “Dear 23,” “Frosting on the Beater” and “Amazing Disgrace,” will each get reissued on vinyl and CD with extras, accompanied by a tour with a fuller band – the returning rhythm section of their “Frosting” album, Mike Musburger and Dave Fox.

For the penultimate stop on their duo tour Saturday at the Hamilton Live in Washington, D.C., though, it was just the two of them, as it was in the beginning, when they were teenagers in Bellingham, Wash., in the late 80s. — trading tunes and harmonies.

It was left to fans to imagine the bass lines or do air drums to things like the sly “Flavor of the Month,” with which they opened, or “Solar Sister,” which closed the main set, and a dozen or songs from four different decades in between.

The mental Music Minus One approach sort of worked, though the drums were kind of missed on their tunes that built.

An awful lot of the power pop came from the two old chums, who each now live as ex-pats in Europe. Their harmonies are still in check, as when they did a stunning “You Avoid Parties” away from the microphones. But to keep their guitar interplay working, they had to do an awful lot of tuning.

After they were introduced and got on stage and before nearly every song, they had to pause and really concentrate on getting the strings right. Stringfellow said it was because of their lately weird winter touring trajectory – the February shows jagged from Minneapolis to Kirkland, Wash., to D.C. to Austin (were they just bent on building up the frequent flyer miles?).

The climate changes made the guitars go off, they said, and the two concentrated so much on tuning they couldn’t even joke, talk or otherwise entertain while they tried to. Eventually they began to riff on it with fake song titles.

“I Want Tune to Want Me,” Auer offered.

“Tune All the Girls I’ve Loved before,” Stringfellow countered.

“Tune Sir With Love,” said Auer.

Not to make too much of this, but having a guy tune an extra set of guitars during songs would have even more welcome than a rhythm section.

And it paid off especially in the songs with extended solos like “Burn & Shine.”

Stringfellow switched things up by taking to grand piano for a couple of songs, “That Don’t Fly” and “Coming Right Along.”

The Posies are also inviting guest vocalists for every duo stop, and in D.C. it singer Melanie Edwards, whose regular gig is at Clyde’s in Ashbury, Va., and is about to release her 11th album (The Posies have only put out eight in 30 years).

She was a welcome presence on stage, but had a hard time fitting her voice into “Licenses to Hide.” It was smoother in the singalong of “The Glitter Prize.”

It was Parthenon Huxley, the longtime rocker who has been based in Bethesda for more than a dozen years, who who joined the two in the encore for an exquisite reading of Big Star’s “Ballad of El Goodo.”

It was Stringfellow and Auer who were picked to fill out the reconstituted Big Star in the decade before founder Alex Childon’s death in 2010; wish they would have chosen a couple of more from that great songbook.

Huxley, who Stringfellow inexplicably called “the Viggo Mortensen of power pop,” also opened the show, accompanied by a violinist Ben Hoyt. That was a crucial addition, since a third of Huxley’s set came from the Electric Light Orchestra, since he was part of the post-Jeff Lynne aggregation first called ELO Part II (before legal action made them change it to simply Orchestra).

It was a tall order to replicate the songs of that complicated band with just acoustic guitar and violin, but Huxley did his best on “Sweet Talkin’ Woman,” “Do Ya” and the most difficult one — since it has overlapping vocal parts — “Evil Woman.”

Playing with that band has given kind of British air to his own work with his band P. Hux and his first single, “Buddha, Buddha,” which goes back further than the Posies and is 35 years old.

 

[Here's an interview I did with Stringfellow a couple of years ago]

 

The setlist for The Posies Saturday was:

  • “Flavor of the Month
  • “Believe in Something Other (Than Yourself)”
  • “Throwaway”
  • “Terrorized”
  • “Apology”
  • “I Guess You’re Right”
  • “Dream All Day”
  • “My Big Mouth”
  • “Golden Blunders”
  • “Earlier Than Expected”
  • “Burn & Shine”
  • “That Don’t Fly”
  • “Coming Right Along”
  • “Licenses to Hide” (with Melanie Edwards)
  • “The Glitter Prize” (with Melanie Edwards)
  • “Solar Sister”
  • “Definite Door”
  • “You Avoid Parties”
  • “The Ballad of El Goodo”
  • “Suddenly Mary”

 

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