By Håvard Oppøyen, Luna Kafe, 13 March 1999
This show was something of an exclusive giveaway: Ken Stringfellow, on a small promo-tour as an additional back-up musician for REM, takes one night off to play the “legendary” So What! club here in Oslo, admission free. Well, everything was set for a fine evening, except that Saturday night is NOT the perfect time for an intimate solo performance, y’know… beers and cheers, loud-mouthery. Anyway, we were there for Ken, who seems to be a jolly good fellow.
Mr. Stringfellow shot briefly to fame with the Posies when they released the smashing 2nd album ‘Frosting On The Beater’ in 1993. But the success was relative, and after two more albums the Posies were no more. Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer, the pair behind the Posies song-book, have not only showed magic with their power-popped guitar-riff-rolls. They have been touring with “little big star” Alex Chilton, resulting in the live document ‘Columbia: Live at Missouri University’. (As, yes: …Big Star. Hmm…) And right now Stringfellow is playing with the R.E.M. guys. Quite a CV he’s making himself…
Anyway, this Saturday night in Oslo turned into an evening of good vibes from the polite Mr. Stringfellow with his (electric) guitar. He played for an hour and a half, despite the buzz from the back. And, unlike the energy of the Posies fully tip-toed, this was a very quiet evening. You had to be near (if not on) the stage to hear the words, especially when he, as a demonstration, put aside the mic and the mike-stand to sing “unplugged”. Quite challenging for the ears, since it was really hard to hear anything only a few feet away from the stage. But Ken was in a good mood, smiling, even when he told the people not interested in his music to leave for the bar up-stairs. The small crowd that, literally (he invited the audience to enter the stage), surrounded the man on stage was really devoted and focused from the fine atmosphere. Ken Stringfellow showed his vocal and musical talents through a line of great pop-songs. Some from the Posies years, such as the touchingWhen Mute Tongues Can Speak and the awesome Solar Sister (both from Frosting on the Beater), plusPrecious Moments, the angry Everybody is a Fucking Liar, Ontario, and The Certainty (all from Amazing Disgrace, 1996). Evidence of how great the Posies once could be.
But the set-list wasn’t only Posies-stuff. I guess he presented some material from his solo album (which I haven’t heard yet) This Sounds Like Goodbye (released by Hidden Agenda, 1998) – was there a song calledToo True? – as well as some cover songs. When someone in the audience (not me!) shouted “Big Star!!”, Ken smiled and said: “Never heard of them…”. I think this was the friendliest concert I’ve been to in a long time. Except for my own (and I hope many other’s) disgust of the blabbering fools almost ruining a fine performance. Hey!? Is this an Oslo phenomenon or what? Yeah, okay, this was a Saturday night all right, and the admission was free. But, it seems like this is a trend at most concerts. Even when you’ve got to pay, say 150-200 NKR (which means £15/$20). People come to talk to friends during entire shows, not even trying to concentrate on what’s/who’s on stage. It’s maybe more important to be or be seen there. Well, sod off ignorants! Just say it’s your own money your wasting. The problem is: it’s our money too. Nuf said. Thanks to Ken Stringfellow for giving such a heartfelt performance. He even did encores, especially when this request of his was heard (and paid by several people…): “If anyone could bring me a Jack Daniels with a tempting pair of ice cubes floating in it.” Welcome back sometime.