A smallish crowd witnessed a well-paired co-headline show at the Gothic on Wednesday night with Brendan Benson, perhaps best known as a member of the Raconteurs, and power pop near-legends the Posies. Posies mainstays Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow pulled double duty, playing guitar and guitar/keys, respectively, for Benson’s set as well as their own.
Of the two, Benson may have had more commercial success, in part because a few of his ultra-catchy songs like “Tiny Spark” and “Cold Hands, Warm Heart,” which have been used in commercials. He played a strong, well-received 40-minute set sprinkled with those songs and others. Auer and Stringfellow fleshed many of them out, adding harmonies and background vocals superbly, just as they’ve done when they backed the late Alex Chilton in various Big Star “reunions.”
Benson’s set also may have been the slightly stronger of the two. There appeared to be a few more people there for his set than for the Posies. It almost seemed like there were two audiences – a younger, twentysomething, indie audience present during Benson’s performance and others, 10 to 15 years older and from the alternative era, arriving there solely to hear the Posies.
Benson, Auer and Stringfellow all seemed quite loose and were particularly chatty, making jokes at each other’s expense and, at times, members of the audience. There were a few comments about Aspen, the site of their show the night before, in addition to the almost perfunctory acknowledgment many bands playing Colorado now make about “medicinal” odors emanating from the crowd. The chattiness never detracted from the show and was refreshing, compared to artists who scarcely acknowledge an audience, let alone seem to care a whit if people are even there.
During Benson’s set and their own, Auer and Stringfellow leg-kicked and leapt about the stage like someone half their age. The Posies set drew primarily from their new, barely heralded, yet strong, 2010 release, “Blood/Candy.” It’s more energetic than 2005’s “Every Kind of Light,” and it showed live. It’s more the power pop of “The Who Sell Out” than, say, Big Star or fellow ’90s poppers Jellyfish. Even so, “For The Ashes,” off their latest, showed the Posies can still do pretty songs when they feel like it.
Individually, both Auer and Stringfellow possess excellent voices. Singing together they make the Posies sound what it is: two very complimentary voices blending to produce harmonies on melodies difficult to resist. Many indie bands have re-discovered multi-voice harmonies but few manage to compose melodies where the harmonies can work. Some Posies songs do this quite well, while others just flat out don’t. That said, the set would have benefited from a bit of the group’s strong back catalog.
The 70-minute set did touch on a handful of Posies ’90s songs including “Golden Blunders,” “Solar,” “Throwaway” and the set-closer, “Dream all Day” – as well as a great cover off Husker Du’s “Zen Arcade,” which opened their encore.
Mike Long is a Longmont-based writer and comedian and a regular contributor to Reverb.
Dave Gannon is a Denver photographer and new contributor to Reverb.