Mostly tuneful flowers

Chico News & Review
John W. Young
Publication date: 
June 6, 2002
Monday, June 3, 2002

Mostly tuneful flowers
Posies’ Stringfellow headlines an evening of melodies at the Senator

Musician Ken Stringfellow put on a generally enjoyable show last Monday night at the Senator Theatre in downtown Chico. Chief songwriter (along with Jon Auer) for Seattle-based indie band The Posies, Stringfellow played nothing but tunes from his recent CD, Touched, on Manifesto Records. The guitarist was backed by fellow Seattle-ites The Long Winters.

Clad in cowboy boots, plain denim trousers and a long-sleeved blue work shirt, Stringfellow took the stage at just after 11 p.m., kicking off his hour-long set with “Spanish Waltz,” a riff-rocker in 6/8 time from his solo CD. Stringfellow expertly wielded his lime-tinted Dan Electro guitar, wresting harmonic feedback from his Fender amplifier as the piece climaxed. During the instrumentals, however, Stringfellow leapt and postured somewhat ineffectively—some rock gestures simply don’t carry much weight when set before a skimpy house.

And it was skimpy, too. There were maybe 25 in attendance by the time Stringfellow hit the stage, a terrible showing for a musician so highly regarded both inside and outside of indie-rock circles (he’s even toured as a sideman with REM). Perhaps it was just as well. Stringfellow’s usually note-perfect tenor and falsetto lines often fizzled out when he reached for the choruses, somewhat dampening the effectiveness of such otherwise soaring melodies as those on “Sparrow,” “This One’s on You,” “Reveal Love,” and so forth from his CD. Still, there were those moments when his voice pierced loud and strong, and the beauty of Stringfellow’s melodies was made manifest.

Stringfellow played nothing from the repertoire of his band The Posies. He kept the emphasis on his solo material, and that was probably wise given the slightly uneven energy of the evening. Hopefully, the low turnout won’t keep Stringfellow from returning to Chico in the future. And, hopefully, if he’s ever faced with such an intimate crowd again, he’ll leave most of the rock star antics safely filed away. Stringfellow’s songs are so much the heart of his talent that the leaping and posturing come off as decidedly superfluous.

Backing Stringfellow on this tour and offering a set of its own material beforehand was The Long Winters. Consisting of Chris Caniglia on keyboards, Eric Corson on bass, Michael Shilling on drums, John Roderick on guitar and vocals and Sean Nelson on keyboards and vocals, the band displayed some fairly tuneful compositions in its own right.

Sonically, the group suggests vague traces of REM and X, that last band particularly in its vocal harmonies and phrasings. While I didn’t jot down any of the group’s lyrics during the set, generally the themes tended from gentle irony to ribald humor. Roderick and Nelson produced flawless harmonies, and spectacled, bearded Roderick made his rather complex, exciting guitar work seem almost incidental. Drummer Shilling let fly some articulate, powerful fills, and bassist Corson turned in some subtle, deft scales. Keyboardists Caniglia and Nelson never once got in each other’s way, and Nelson delivered some great tambourine rattling (how can you hate a musician who happily shakes a tambourine during a catchy chorus?).

Modesto band Fiver was to open but was forced to drop out due to van trouble out on the road somewhere.

Opening the evening instead was former Chicoan Claire Hamilton. Hamilton possesses a strong voice, reminiscent of Bonnie Raitt’s smoky alto. The folky-yet-funky, Texas-relocated musician turned in a sweet, short set accompanied only by her own acoustic guitar playing. Her original tunes served as an introductory bouquet for an evening of mostly tuneful flowers.