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.
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.
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.”