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flag US - Washington - Full Moon 68 - 04/27/02

Ken Stringfellow
Paradiso, Amsterdam, Holland, 29.3.2002

If love is god, then let's make more god!

concertpic The Paradiso, an old church, usually holds about 900 people and has a stage that's about 6 feet high, but for tonight they had set up the club with tables and chairs and Ken Stringfellow - former Posie and Big Star/R.E.M. sidekick - was actually playing in front of the big stage (on what looked liked the drum riser) in front of a big red satin curtain. Ok, it was only cheap chairs, but the scene kinda had a Las Vegas / Atlantic City Casino vibe to it, especially when you consider that Ken was on stage alone, just with his guitar and keyboard for company. He started with "Your Love Won't Be Denied" (from his 1997 solo debut This Sounds Like Goodbye), semi-surprisingly not played on the keyboard as usual, but on guitar, with his amp turned up insanely loud ("I loved it", Ken said after the show). Nothing wrong with that but the guitar sound was drowning out his voice at times and his singing is actually a lot better than his (also quite good) guitar playing. "Spanish Waltz", again on guitar, was next, and not as good as the piano versions he's done before. Ken put a lot into it though, so much in fact that he broke a string (someone from the audience fixed it for him), while he did a terrific version of "This One's On You" (from his recent masterpiece Touched) and an amazingly touching "Reveal Love" (maybe his best song ever) on the piano - very special indeed. What followed was certainly special as well, as Ken "the solo performer" disappeared for 20 minutes and "Ken Posie" took to the stage. Back on guitar he started what sounded a lot like "Pay You Back In Time", a 1994 demo that finally saw the light of day on the At Least, At Last box set recently - and it was! Supposedly played for the first time ever! concertpic It sounded terrific, a lot like the box set version actually, just that the guitar was louder than the vocals this time around. And there were more surprises, like the slow and emotional piano version of The Posies' "Everybody Is A Fucking Liar" that was next, or both "The Certainty" and an especially lovely "Love Letter Boxes" on the piano. The beautiful "Lover's Hymn" inspired a lengthy debate (the first of the night) about god and sex and religion, the motto of the night being, according to Ken: "If god is love, then let's make more god!"

concertpic The next song kinda concluded the main set with Ken saying "Ok, I'll start fucking around now" and then playing his usual first encore, the Beach Boys' "Good Timin'". He also said he would play for as long as we wanted him to - and he did! He did Elvis Costello's "Baby Plays Around", the only song of the night that didn't do anything for me, maybe because Ken's crooner version was a little too "kitsch". Another Beach Boys song followed, a superb (and surprisingly upbeat version) of "Girl Don't Tell Me", from their 1965 Summer Days album, a song most of you may know from the version Fuzzy did some years back. You could tell that the crowd loved it, but not as much as "Onatrio" which followed. Not the best song to be played solo on an electric guitar, but a good song on a night that featured so many other mellow and semi-depressing songs. A nice take on "Any Sign At All" followed - just makes you wonder why he doesn't play the song more often. And then: A lovely, very slow and quiet "Moon River"! Apparently Ken started playing the song in on his recent tour of Australia and this rendition really sounded rehearsed and very well done. A real treat! Ken left the stage after the song, only to come back for the first "real encore": A staggeringly beautiful piano rendition of Stevie Wonder's "Knocks Me Off My Feet", the classic from the Songs In The Key Of Life album. Could it possibly get any better? Yes it could, with a tear-inducing "God Only Knows". Now if you can play and sing a version of any Pet Sounds song that is actually more touching (and quite possibly better) than Brian Wilson's original you're a fucking star! And Ken did just that! Since there was a 11.30 curfew and it only was 11.15, Ken returned once more and said he would be more than happy to play another 15 minutes for us, but that he had no idea what he should play. So some people in the audience yelled out some requests, mostly Posies or Big Star songs and strange covers, the most unlikely of which (judging by the audience's laughter) being "Stairway To Heaven"! You could tell from Ken's reaction though, that he didn't thought that was an unlikely request at all and he even though he was actually just done with tuning his guitar he immediately sat down at the piano and started playing the famous intro. He actually did the whole eight-and-a-half minutes, complete with all the solos (even the "does anybody remember laughter?" bit from the Led Zep live rendition was in there!). Wow! Okay, he didn't remember most of the third verse and did the "and it makes me wonder bit" twice, but it was quite amazing to see and hear him play the song, apparently figuring out the chords as he went along! I have to say it again: If you can make a song, especially an epic like this, sound interesting for more than eight minutes with just voice and piano, you're the man! Ken had the audience clapping along for the loud bit at the end and for the last verses he actually sounded better than Robert Plant! He closed the night with Christopher Cross's "Arthur's Theme" (played for the late Dudley Moore) and it was that song that made you realise what set this show apart from the long alcohol-fuelled shows by the Posies in 2000: Despite the freeform, no setlist approach, Ken never lost it and despite the many requests and seemingly weird song choices, everything was very thoughtful and there for a reason. concertpic Ken had said about the Dublin show a few days earlier, that it was just a great night of music, and this certainly was too. It was a perfect mix that showcased all of Ken's strengths, both as a songwriter of quite varied material (from "Ontario" to "Sparrow" or "Lover's Hymn"), and a performer ("God Only Knows", "Stairway To Heaven"). After two hours and five minutes he could rightly say: "I think this probably was pretty good for a show!" It certainly was. Make sure you're there next time!

Copyright © 2002 Carsten Wohlfeld (photos also) e-mail address

You may also want to check out our Ken Stringfellow articles/reviews: "Anything could happen" - an interview with Ken Stringfellow, Jukebox Pop-Quiz! Cologne, 2001, So What!, Oslo, March 13th 1999, Soft Commands, an interview in Seattle.

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