Monthly Archives: October 2018

The Posies @ The Garage, 19/10/18

The Garage is my kind of venue for a rock show. A well-proportioned room, no seating and a stage only a step or two up from the audience. It’s small, sweaty and intimate – not ideal for anything other than loud rock gigs, but great for those.

Fortunately, that’s what the Posies had in mind. Always a tougher proposition live than on record, they came out in purposeful mood, smashing into Dream All Day with a full arsenal of scissor kicks and windmills. The mix was loud but pretty well balanced. If the vocals were occasionally a little on the quiet side, it was no big. It was a rock show, after all, and thanks to a good relationship between guitars and drums, the music had all the physical impact you’d hope for.

Next up was Dear 23‘s Any Other Way. The recording of that song is gorgeous, with rich reverb and a lovely depth to the guitar sound. On Friday, the band attacked it hard, giving it a feral edge. Ken Stringfellow even broke into Grohl-style screams. Not subtle, but very effective. Please Return It, one of my very favourite Posies songs, was excellent too, but I was a little sad they didn’t pair it with Throwaway as they did when I saw them two years ago at the 100 Club. The sequencing of those two on Amazing Disgrace was perfect, and Throwaway was a surprise non-inclusion in the set. Perhaps Jon Auer’s just a little tired of singing it.

A brace of songs from Frosting on the Beater – Definite Door and Love Letter Boxes – went down very well with the crowd, who were mostly long-time fans, and showed the band’s ability to be heavy and fluid at the same time. Both songs feature surprise rhythmic changes in their choruses, and the rhythm section handled both with aplomb.

An excellent version of Auer’s World slowed the tempo and sonic assault, and was followed up by possibly the highlight of the night. Jon and Ken explained how they came to work on Dear 23 with producer John Leckie – veteran producer of XTC and Magazine albums and then at a career highpoint with the success of the Stone Roses’ debut – and then dedicated an unamplified version of You Avoid Parties to Leckie, who was standing in the audience a few feet away from us. It raised the hair on my arms.

The contrast between that naked performance of what is a pretty stark song and Auer’s So Caroline (a highlight from the brilliant Blood/Candy) only made the latter sound more celebratory, although one of the guys (I can’t remember whether it was Jon or Ken) undercut it by joking they’d detected a collective wince every time they sang “close enough to remain“.

Next was a surprise. Mike Musburger, who was authoritative and powerful behind the kit all night, was replaced by Posies fan Lawrence Salisbury for a version of Going, Going, Gone from the Reality Bites soundtrack. Salisbury had backed the band’s reissue campaign on PledgeMusic and his reward was to be a Posie for a song. He did a pretty great job of handling all the changes in dynamic and the big fills at the end of the choruses and was obviously having a blast doing it. The audience was noisily appreciative of his efforts.

Support act Anna Wolf then joined the band on stage to guest on two Blood/Candy highlights: Licenses to Hide and The Glitter Prize. I’m a big fan of both songs and was pleased to hear them, but while, Wolf’s presence did add an extra something to the vocals, her rather theatrical singing voice didn’t blend all that well with Jon’s and Ken’s, and was sometimes a little distracting.

Everybody is a Fucking Liar (from Amazing Disgrace) and two more from Frosting on the Beater, Flavor of the Month and the deathless Solar Sister, brought the great set to a strong end; the latter two were particularly strong, and, for those paying attention, ensured that the encore would end only one way.

The band came back quickly and ground out a fuss-free version of Song #1, a twisty-turny track from Amazing Disgrace that itself would have made a good set closer. Another highlight followed: the band’s wonderful cover of Chris Bell’s shattered, shattering I Am the Cosmos, possibly the best song Bell ever wrote (and that’s saying something). Few singers could inhabit that song and do the intensity of its emotions justice, and Auer is one of them. He and Stringfellow are still ludicrously underrated as singers.

They then played a frantic, lightning-speed version of Grant Hart from Amazing Disgrace, the band’s tribute to the late Hüsker Dü drummer and singer. The tempo, while impressive and fitting for a song about a legend of hardcore, was possibly too brisk for its own good; the band made such a racket that the vocals, for the only time that night, became indistinct. Anyone not familiar with the song would have struggled to identify it amid the white noise.

Not to worry, though. Burn & Shine finished things very strongly. Auer’s pysch-grunge epic is a perfect set closer, and manages to encapsulate so much of what was great about the Posies in the 1990s: the muscularity of the drumming, the intensity of the guitars, the indelible melodies, the peerless harmony singing and, when the occasion warranted, the scabrous lead guitar playing of Auer. By the end of the song, his guitar had no strings left on it and Musburger’s cymbals had taken a hell of a beating. My eardrums, too.

Oh, I haven’t mentioned Dave Fox’s suit. He had quite the suit. I wish I had a picture.

 

 

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Geoff Emerick RIP

Geoff Emerick passed away on 2 October.

It’s basically impossible to overstate the importance of Emerick in the history of audio engineering. Born in 1945, he took over the engineering of Beatles sessions at Abbey Road in 1966. His first session as the band’s lead engineer, the first for what would become Revolver, was on Tomorrow Never Knows. That’s quite an auspicious start. The technical achievements of that session alone – the thunderous slack-tuned drum sound, the tape loops, the heavy compression that made Ringo’s cymbals sound like they were being played backwards, the vocal effect on Lennon’s voice, achieved by running it through a rotating Leslie speaker cabinet designed for use with an organ – would ensure that Emerick went down as an AE immortal. It was just his first session.

Time and again, Emerick broke the rules of engineering to give the Beatles the effects they wanted. The band, and sometimes George Martin, may have been the architects of these sounds and effects, but Emerick (as well as Ken Scott, once Emerick quit Beatles sessions in search of more regular hours and a less poisonous atmosphere) was quantity surveyor, clerk of works, builder, carpenter and electrician all rolled into one. They commissioned the house; he built it. I mention “rules of engineering” above – at Abbey Road in the 1960s, they were literally rules, and Emerick could have been fired for his experiments in sound if the studio management had known exactly what he was doing with their expensive equipment to make these records. He invented an arsenal of techniques and effects that are still in use today, often by using equipment in a way no one had designed it to be used. Engineers in that era had to be familiar with their gear at component level, and Emerick was no exception.

Emerick’s career may have not matched up to its early years, and the fallout from the book he wrote 10 years back (in which he was relentlessly critical of George Harrison and frequently dismissive of Martin, seeming to only have much time for McCartney – the only Beatle to employ him once the band split) was ugly. But Emerick remains a giant in the field. His work transformed the practice of audio engineering. As long as people are recording sound, his work will be studied and he will be remembered.

International parkrun Day

Yesterday was International parkrun Day.

Fourteen years ago, 13 amateur runners and a handful of volunteers led by Paul Sinton-Hewitt, gathered in Bushy Park, West London, to run a 5km course on a Saturday morning. Sinton-Hewitt was a keen runner but, injured at the time, was unable to run, and was looking for a way to keep running as a central part of his life while he was injured while giving something back to the community he loved and valued so highly.

The Bushy parkrun grew so popular that in 2007 Sinton-Hewitt eventually gave in to those who kept asking him whether it could be trialled at other venues, too. There are now more than 500 parkruns in the UK, and more than 1600 worldwide. Since April, there has been one in the park next to my road, which is hugely lucky for me; running tends to drift in and out of my life based on. how busy I am with music and work, so momentum is everything. At the moment, I’m in the habit of running twice a week, and I hope to keep it that way. A Saturday-morning parkrun less than five minutes’ walk from my front door is a godsend.

I don’t want to be an awful bore or a fitness bully, so I’m not writing this to badger anyone into taking part; I enjoy running, but that doesn’t mean everyone else has to. For me, going for a run is not just about keeping fit and healthy; it’s a celebration. Six years ago, I couldn’t run at all, and it looked likely that I never would again. So the fact that I now can is something I cherish. I love the feeling of accomplishment, the feeling of strength and above all else the feeling of movement itself.

While my reasons for going along are perhaps a little unusual, what’s great about parkrun is that any reason for doing it is as valid as any other. I’ve taken part in organised running events elsewhere (as recently as this morning), and while they’ve been well organised and friendly, the spirit at them is different. parkrun is very explicitly a run, not a race. Of course, many people who take part want to push themselves and go faster and get PBs, but parkrun is no more geared to the club athletes who run sub-20 than it is the people who want to jog slowly, or even walk, around the course while having a natter with a friend. All are welcome. And because the volunteer roster at each Parkrun includes a tail walker, no one comes last.

I understand those who dislike organised exercise, and find it a bit too much like school PE lessons. But for me, parkrun is the easiest way to see the best parts of humanity. Crucially, it’s free and Sinton-Hewitt vows it always will be, and it inspires an obvious sense of community in those who turn out. People take their turn at volunteering, and runners unfailingly thank the volunteer marshals and timekeepers (I lost count of how many people said “Thank you, marshal” as they ran past me yesterday when, really, my sole contribution to their run hadn’t been to wear a hi-vis jacket, clap and occasionally whoop, and acknowledge those pushing buggies round the course as “buggy dudes”). At a parkrun, runners congratulate and encourage each other, staying behind after they finish to clap and cheer others as they come in. You see smiles and hear laughter everywhere.

Yesterday, I didn’t run, as I’d already committed to a 10k in my hometown of Southend today, so I volunteered as a way of being involved. Like many acts of volunteering – or possibly all – it wasn’t entirely altruistic. I did it because parkrun depends on volunteers, since it doesn’t charge for participation (or for anything), so it needs volunteers, and doing it once in a while is a quid pro quo. But even more than that, I wanted to be there because nothing else I do locally makes me feel more a part of my community than parkrun, and nothing else I’m involved in is such a pure social good with, as far as I can tell, absolutely no down side.

For more information about parkrun, go here (if you’re in the UK) or here.