Except for a brief spurt of popularity in the early-to-middle 1990s, power-pop legends the Posies have carried on a quiet existence outside of the spotlight of the media for years, touring as a duo of lead songwriters Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer. They were around long enough to make a commercial splash in their hometown of Seattle well before the rise of grunge, get included on the soundtrack to Reality Bites, and then soldier on gamely after the major label attention had waned.
Now, celebrating their 30th anniversary as a band, the Posies have reunited with their original drummer Mike Musburger and bassist Dave Fox for the first time since 1994, and embarked on a national and global tour cued around the expanded vinyl reissues of three of their classic 1990s albums. On June 16th, they turned the usually staid venue The Hamilton in downtown DC into a wild garage-pop party, complete with a dance area at the front. From the get-go, Stringfellow and Auer showed tremendous energy, leaping all over the stage with their emblematic single “Dream All Day,” from their 1993 record Frosting on the Beater that marked their greatest commercial recognition. The energy didn’t abate as Stringfellow broke a guitar string by the third song.
The genius of Posies songs is in the choruses, where Auer and Stringfellow’s harmonies find the sweet spot between the aggression of their 70s rock god forebears and the aching melancholy of Big Star, for which they once served as a backing band. “You’re the Beautiful One” and “Suddenly Mary” showcase the Auer and Stringfelow harmonies at their sweetest and saddest, but the biggest crowd reaction was to their more raucous moments, like the brattier “Ontario,” and “Flavor of the Month,” their pissy reminder that the band was around long before the rise of grunge and saw the rise and fall of many artistically lesser bands. “Solar Sister,” a sweet Stringfellow ballad, was dedicated with fondness to an adorable young fan of perhaps nine years old — and also to a woman’s empowerment group working in rural Africa that shares the same name.
In their generous set list, Auer and Stringfellow took periodic breaks for comedic commentary and pitched the Pledgemusic campaign for expanded reissues of three Posies records on Omnivore. The set closed with Stringfellow on keyboards doing the oldest song in the Posies catalogue, “Flood of Sunshine,” and warmly thanking the fans who have followed the band through its three-decade trajectory.
Openers the Thrushes were perhaps an odd fit for the Posies; the long-running Baltimore-based shoegaze ensemble don’t have a lot of obvious overlap. But there is some mutual history between the Posies and Thrushes lead singer and songwriter Anna Connor, who has joined the band as a singer on several prior local appearances in the last couple of years.
Like a lot of shoegaze, the Thrushes lacked some energy until drums kicked in and songs gained more dynamics. Excellent drummer Scott Tiemann lent unusual textures to Thrushes’ formula, even a bit of a rockabilly vibe at times. Between Connor’s evocative singing — if vague lyrics — and the dreamy guitar tones of Casey Harvey, Thrushes are an unabashed throwback to the heyday of 1990s 4AD-inspired shoegaze, on the poppier end of the spectrum. This is a style of music gaining new resonance today, with the successes of Japanese Breakfast and related acts.
Connor was grateful for the attention of the audience, saying that Thrushes had never played in a place this fancy before. The crowd was into it, too. She joined the Posies for a song – “Licenses to Hide” from 2010’s Blood/Candy – and endured some good-natured ribbing from Stringfellow and Auer about an alternate shoegaze Star Wars universe.
Power pop fans who bought tickets for the Posies lucked out with the surprise addition of Chris Stamey to the bill. Stamey, one of the two principals of the dBs and a major figure in the North Carolina pop scene, was in DC to do a book reading from A Spy in the House of Loud, about his days in the 1970s New York rock scene.
Between excerpts from his book, Stamey played a few select highlights from his career on acoustic guitar, accompanied by violinist Winston Yu. “Summer Sun,” his independent single produced by Big Star’s Alex Chilton in 1977, was delightful. There was a sole dBs tune, “Happenstance,” from 1983’s Repercussion. But the charm of seeing Stamey came from his role as a raconteur and a living encyclopedia of power pop, the man who played with Alex Chilton and Mitch Easter, released Chris Bell’s solo material, and produced essential music by artists as varied as Pylon, Whiskeytown, and Le Tigre. He is an underappreciated treasure, except by power pop fans, and the Posies were right to add him to the bill.