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POP MUSIC REVIEW : Pocketful of Posies' Power Is Palpable

August 16, 1993|JIM WASHBURN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO — If the Posies keep up at their present pace, they might just become one of the great bands of the '90s.

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Though in their early 20s, the Seattle quartet has a command of such a rich legacy of pop's past that it would be hard to catalogue them all, with everything from XTC to Neil Young to the Beatles to Cheap Trick churning around in their mix.

And, perhaps because the band members are in their early 20s, these influences seem to wear lightly on them, never keeping the band from asserting its own distinctive voice. Ever since Pete Townshend coined the term power pop in 1967, there have been precious few bands that have been able to marry crunch chords and hauntingly hooky melodies with the impact and intelligence presently shown by the Posies.

At the Coach House on Saturday, the group proved that its once-spotty live shows are now a palpable match for the sonic avalanche of its current "Frosting on the Beater" album.

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Co-leaders Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer are both strong, effective singers. For a guy who looks like Suzanne Vega, the waif-like Stringfellow has a voice that often sounds remarkably like the Hollies' Allan Clarke, though he's willing to push it to an emotional edge Clarke rarely assayed. While pogoing relentlessly about the stage, he and Auer traded off lead vocals, supporting each other with swirling harmonies and meshing guitar lines. Their set touched on earlier songs such as 1990's "Golden Blunders" (recently covered by Ringo) and "Suddenly Mary," but dwelled, justifiably, on "Beater's" churning masterpieces.

One, "Flavor of the Month," is a subversively upbeat castigation of the music business, with the hooky chorus: "The flavor of the month is busy melting in your mouth/Getting easier to swallow and harder to spit out."

The set list also included their hypnotic alternative hit "Dream All Day," "Solar Sister," with a cascading array of great hooks, and the shimmering harmonies of "Earlier Than Expected." On "Lights Out," gentle harmonies and delicately interlaced guitar lines made sudden dynamic shifts into rampaging slabs of sound.

The Nordic gloom that permeates the Northwest scene also got fair representation. Stringfellow has crafted the memory of a childhood playground beating into a monster of a song with "When Mute Tongues Can Speak," while Auer's moody "Burn and Shine" became the occasion for an extended, and surprisingly musical, "freak-out" jam.

On guitar, Auer sounded like a missing link between Neil Young and Angus Young, combining crunchy chording, incisive solo phrases and a feedbacked abandon, all while lurching and bouncing about the stage. Both he and Stringfellow kept in such antic motion that it was a constant wonder how they always made it to the microphone in time to sing.

With all the bounding about, their playing did suffer in places, losing some of its definition. Stringfellow and Auer also clearly weren't used to playing to a seated, dining audience instead of a dance floor of mutually pogoing fans, and that dampened the momentum at times.

But even in the few instances when the front men didn't quite click, the Posies were still engrossing. Along with solid bassist Dave Fox, the band has a drummer, Mike Musburger, who can spark a song the way the late Keith Moon did. And, like Moon, you could shut out the rest of the music and be satisfied just with the rhythmic fireworks he was producing.

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The best thing one can say about Seattle-ite opening act Love Battery is that its performance highlighted just how special the Posies are.

Though doubtlessly as earnest as every other band coming down the pike, Love Battery could use a jump-start when it comes to the little basics like writing, singing and playing. To its credit, though, it has a swell song title on its current "Far Gone" album: "Head of Ringo."

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