If it's indeed been six years since their last Portland concert, the Posies did their best to make up for lost time May 28, though the trio of appearances around town felt less a parade of conquering heroes than an expertly-targeted commando raid.
Following the previous night's sold-out Bellingham gig, they arrived in town for an intimate acoustic Music Millennium afternoon in-store before playing a full band show with new drummer Frankie Siragusa on a flat-bed near the shoreline of Green Anchors – a former shipyard turned eco-industrial park at the foot of the St. John's Bridge. Finally, around 10:30 PM, perhaps a dozen well-heeled superfans climbed aboard a neighboring steamship for a private acoustic show from founding-members/co-frontmen John Auer and Ken Stringfellow.
That late show, arranged as benefit for Columbia Clearwater, was likely the weirdest of the Posies' current jaunt through non-traditional venues. As well, it marked just their second floating gig over nearly three decades' existence, and the circumstances were rather different. "We played a Water Festival in Sweden with Sonic Youth in the 90s," Stringfellow recalled. "They put the bands on a barge, and they put that in a harbor in Stockholm. It was kinda funny – you're looking across forty feet of water at everybody on the shore so it's like they're not quite there – but they had probably, like, five thousand people."
In support of Solid States, the Posies' newly-released eighth album and first since 2010, the band decided to organize a tour that booked only non-traditional venues not ordinarily used for performance. Once the sites were arranged, hopeful attendees could purchase tickets under the stipulation that details of the concert's location wouldn't be relayed until 24 hours prior. "They had to be non-clubs", Stringfellow said, "places where there's something interesting – off the beaten path. I'd say probably sixty percent were private homes of various kinds, then a few recording studios, and then a few oddballs like a church and a brewery and a cabaret theater and a couple other things like that.
"We keep everything limited. Some of those houses were so small we kept it to, like, thirty people. The smallest show we did was in our L.A. recording studio for only fifteen people who paid a very premium price. The idea, of course, is that we have less people at the shows but put the ticket price up. It's actually worked out better for us financially. The club model has to find that sweet spot of what will get everybody in town into the club, and that sweet spot is too low for us. We don't need everybody in town. We just need our devoted fans."
The relatively bustling Portland crowds came about only after a friend introduced Stringfellow to Columbia Clearwater—an art-oriented non-profit organization dedicated to restoring and preserving the Columbia Basin– in hopes the Posies could play their summer benefit concert, and, though scheduling conflicts disallowed participation, the upcoming festival's Green Anchors site dovetailed nicely with the band's touring objectives. Moreover, since the space allowed greater capacity than expected, the band doubled the amount of tickets made available and donated the additional sales to Columbia Clearwater alongside all proceeds from the acoustic set they volunteered to play atop the nearby steamship.
Captain Bob, a tugboat originally constructed for military use during World War II, now serves as an occasional stage and makeshift studio that has hosted shows broadcast live on KBOO. After six shows in 72 hours, Stringfellow found his voice too beaten for useful recording, but the band members did take advantage of the ship's cabins and spent the night on board. "That was beautiful," he said, "amazing. I was sad that we had to get up at five and hit the road at six because the party was definitely raging on the boat – the captain and some of his buddies, they were going for it! So, I kinda pulled my hoodie over my head and managed to eke out maybe five hours of sleep. Then, when we're rolling out of there, just looked like dead bodies all over the place.
Although that evening's Bay Area show marked the final stop of the Posies current tour, Stringfellow stayed in Oakland to oversee another project. He's in the studio this week helping to finalize a final collection from seminal jangle-pop combo Game Theory three years after the death of its primary songwriter. "Scott Miller was the real mastermind behind Game Theory – the main protagonist, if you will. He formed the band and soldiered through its various line-ups. He had talked to me about doing an album that, for the first time in 25 years, he was interested in calling Game Theory again after other band and projects in the 90s and early 2000s. And, then … and, then, he died.
"It was already slated that I would work with him, and he had some other people in mind, too. So, we're basically doing our best to see this album through its completion. What he left behind are just numerous musical fragments – iPhone memo, sound memos – and we've been piecing them together. There are a few songs that were more or less complete, and then a few things that are just, like, crazy. We've actually managed to finish some of the harder ones with the help of people like Ted Leo, Doug Gillard [Guided By Voices], Aimee Mann, etcetera. I've got a few different Game Theory members here. The rest I've tracked down, like Donette Thayer, and they're gonna send their parts in by correspondence."
The forthcoming album, funded by an ongoing Kickstarter campaign (kickstarter.com/projects/bjwest/supercalifragile-by-scott-millers-game-theory) and produced by Mitch (REM, Pavement) Easton, will also include contributions by Jon Auer, Nina Gordon, and Peter Buck. "The idea's that we're gonna be working on it over the course of the sumer, but I've got a few people who are kinda slow. Like, Will Sheff from Okkervil River's doing a thing," he laughed, "not sure how long that's gonna take."
Remote collaborations also played their part in the creation of Solid States. Longtime songwriting partners Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow each worked from their own home studios during the album's creation. However, while this may help explain the band's recent dip into the heretofore unknown terrain of electronica, Stringfellow doubts the newly digitized textures played much of a role in guiding their choice of venues.
"We've always been a very organic band," he said. "The parallel between our musical changes and the pop-up tour has more to do with, like, turning paradigms on their head – really showing that we're not just gonna phone this shit in. We're still musically engaged. We're still engaged in making incredible experiences for ourselves. And for our audience. And, by extension, for our listeners. We're proud of our achievements, but we are not people who give two fucks about our past. We're living in the moment and, best we can, the future. For example, we just cut, basically, the first fully 3D VR music video. It's definitely the first one done in the northwest and, I think, the world premiere of the technology we're using."
During the production of his 2015 'country concept' album with Hazel Munoz The Record, Stringfellow implemented a state-of-the-art process that recorded spatial dimensions capable of replicating the sensation of orbiting the microphone for listeners wearing encoded earphones. He describes this video's tech as beyond Oculus Rift, though "it's the same kinda thing. You can view it with those cardboard things that you just slide your iPhone into, but it's also viewable with the fully strap-on-able headsets. I saw a rough cut of it in Seattle last week, and that's gonna be starting to trickle out pretty soon. Any time there's an opportunity for something new, we're there signing up. These are always experiments."
Over the next two weeks, the Posies will announce a new set of late Autumn dates across Europe and the United States. Stringfellow promises the northwest swing will include another stop in Portland but hadn't the slightest idea just where they'd appear this go-round. "Serendipity is part of the thing, y'know? We go to the markets that we wanna play and say 'hey, what do we got?' Let's find our friends and see what they come up with and that's always kind of amazing.
"Having said that, I think we've tortured Seattle enough. Our show in Seattle, which was already the biggest on this tour, sold out in less than two hours, and people were going completely nuts so we can't really do that again. We're talking to real venues there, but, for the rest of the country, I think we're gonna keep on the pop-up theme and look for those interesting places.
"People love the experience, and we do too. Going back to a club just sounds highly unappealing right now. There are some great clubs out there, no offense to them, but it's a whole different vibe when we're doing it this way. It feels more underground. It is more underground, because not everybody gets to know about it. Not everybody gets to go. And, just .. I love it. I love that we build from scratch every day."