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THE POSIES
at the Knitting Factory, September 8

The Posies’ Bellingham base was close enough to Seattle for them to jump the early ’90s grunge juggernaut, though their music, while oft of flannel-era heft, owed more to perky Brit Invasion sensibilities and Simon & Garfunkel’s heady harmonies than the grimy adrenaline of punk or rawk.

Breaking a lengthy hiatus, original members Jonathan Auer and Ken Stringfellow returned with a good-natured 19-song set buttressed by slammin’-yet-supple rhythm section Matt Harris (bass) and Darius Minwalla (drums). Before a not-quite-packed Knitting Factory, the Posies plunged into a performance characterized by Auer/Stringfellow’s destiny-bound vocal telepathy, guitar-slingin’ histrionics... and Stringfellow’s obsession with showcasing his underwear. Auer channels SNL’s Horatio Sanz via Hot Topic, while Stringfellow, gaunt beneath a head of black thatch, is a day-off goth. The Beavis and Butt-Head of indie-dom (their 1993 breakthrough album was titled Frosting on the Beater... uh huh, huh), Auer and Stringfellow are quick with the quips but serious about songcraft. They opened with the melting melodies of mini-hit “Dream All Day” — instantly familiar with its “Don’t Fear the Reaper”-like human-echo hook — as if to weed out the fair-weather fans before immersing us in a dense procession of power-pop manifestos stewed in pained optimism, nerdy nostalgia and purring, twin-timbre hooks, including half a dozen ditties from the recent Every Kind of Light.

Posies fans foam with “why aren’t they bigger?” frustration. Truth is, the Posies craft timeless tunes with head-shaking ease, but have never made that stop-in-your-tracks stylistic statement that — however briefly — propels lesser musicians into arenas.

—Paul Rogers



BRIAN WILSON, THE POLYPHONIC SPREE
at the Hollywood Bowl, September 4


As the Polyphonic Spree mass-cuddled their Elton John, Beatles and Beach Boys tributes/thefts, it became clear that positivity and ecstasy ain’t quite enough. “God only knows what you’re missin’,” warbled lead post-urchin Tim DeLaughter, but we knew, too: depth. Nice flute, though. The two dozen robed choristers’ crusade to out-hippie the hippies was doomed here anyway — Brian Wilson and his fans aren’t flower children, we’re dorks.

Blobbed center stage behind his keyboard, his hands often hanging in the air or attempting preschool gestures to illustrate the words, Wilson showed what kind of pop genius you’d lose if you always demanded charisma. Though the Beach Boys, whose hits packed the evening, will always represent summer, the music would suffer little if the lyrics were about textiles. The coiling and uncoiling harmonies to “In My Room” and even “Fun, Fun, Fun” — this wasn’t composition, it was the breath of God. Wilson’s crack orchestra turned out the layered arrangements with dynamic sensitivity, and even jammed strong on “Pet Sounds.” Props went out to Phil Spector (“And Then I Kissed Her”), Johnny Rivers (“Do You Want To Dance?”) and Chuck Berry (“Johnny B. Goode”). A swell new Xmas number jingled forth. And Wilson made a righteous pitch for the hurricane victims.

He delivered personal meaning, too. Smile, the epic struggle of his life, came off newly organic, hitting peaks of emotional intensity, devotional transcendence and swirling classicism. “Break Away,” written with his ogre dad, felt pretty damn significant. On “Please Let Me Wonder,” Wilson’s electronically enhanced voice pleaded, “Please forgive me for shaking” — no problem, Brian. Best was the moment during “When I Grow Up To Be a Man” when he sang, “Won’t last forever.” He wore the strangest, strangest smile.

—Greg Burk



THE KNITTERS
at the El Rey Theater, September 2

Twenty years has changed the Knitters, alter ego of L.A. punk favorites X; it’s made them loud and fast and mean. Where once the group fell squarely in the country-folk category, here the quintet showed its shit-kicking side. John Doe and Blasters guitarist Dave Alvin started things off with two pretty ballads: “Silver Wings” and “Cryin’ but My Tears Are Far Away.” But as Doe noted, those would be the last sad songs.

What followed was a set and double encore of cowpunk, drawn from the Knitters’ two albums, various X records and truck-stop jukeboxes. The band vamped it up, bringing to mind various Western icons. The mute Alvin, in red ascot, was every bit the slick city gambler; Doe, as a lanky deputy sheriff, kept him in line; Exene Cervenka became a sort of Miss Kitty meets Ma Ingalls; D.J. Bonebrake did his best bumpkin while beating out some of the fastest drumming you’ve ever seen. Rounding it out on standup bass was Jonny Ray Bartel, who looked as if he could find his way around a ranch.

The night’s high point was the expected crescendoing sing-along “Rock Island Line,” but there was new stuff, too; especially appreciated was “Lonesome War,” an eerie but uptempo Civil War story hinting more than a little at current events. Helping close things out was a reprise of the Knitters’ standard bearer “Wrecking Ball,” the tale of a man whose main thrill comes from stomping chickens to death, but who has since graduated to cattle slaughter at Harris Ranch off Highway 5. “It’s nice to be back in our hometown,” Doe said. “We’ve been playing this song all over the country, but no one knows where the fuck Coalinga is, so a lot of the humor is lost.”

—Ben Sullivan



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