Monday, November 05, 2007

Big Star

I had to go to San Francisco for a series of meetings a couple of weeks ago, and I was eager to get out to see some music, if for no other reason to escape my Big Red compadres for a while. Turns out that the reformulated Big Star is playing at the Fillmore… couldn’t have done better if I’d booked it myself. I bought my ticket, packed my bags, and was off. I did the obligatory meetings and a quick trip to Napa with my hosts, and looked forward to a little free time.

Saturday night, I nab a cab from the Monaco and head down Geary to the Fillmore.

Beyond the obvious reasons, I can see why the Fillmore is a legendary hall. It sounds good, has a great vibe, and the scene seems friendly and relaxed. The walls are lined with hundreds of posters from shows dating back to the beginning of the San Francisco scene, and there’s a washtub full of apples, free to all, at the entryway just like back in the day. Music is playing upstairs and I go upstairs to check it out. To my delight, the DJ is Kelley Stoltz, a Detroit expat and the author of my favorite album of the last couple of years, “Below the Branches.” He puts on the Small Faces, and I can’t help but smile. He’s ace... he’s spinning nothing but vinyl! I just wish he’d get going and release that next album.

First up, Oranger. They’re playing their 10th anniversary show, and they’re all wearing fake mustaches, but most of them fall off somewhere in the midst of the first couple songs. They sound terrific, they’re having a good time, and the mood is contagious -- if there's any justice, they'll carry on for 10 more years. Kelley is off the steel wheels and is up front with his girl, digging it. I thought I saw John Vanderslice in the crowd.

Chilton doesn’t look that different from the last time I saw him over 10 years ago. Maybe a little balder on top, but he still has that wry grin and his penchant for unexpectedly breaking into “Girl from Ipanema” whenever, wherever. Except now he’s working Hunter Thompson accessories… halfway through the show, he pulls out a cigarette holder and lights up. Get him some aviators and he’d be all set.

Jody Stephens looks like a freakin’ movie star: blond and slim, he plays stylish, energetic drums and sings. He does “For You” and "Way Out West". I saw him in the terminal the following morning on my way home (I guess we are both prisoners of Northwest Airlines, living in NWA hubs), and you would mistake him for a younger man until he pulled out reading glasses to check his ticket. Were we all so lucky.

And there’s the Posies, a great band in their own right. Jon Auer’s starting to look a little like Shatner, but he sounds terrific. He is your designated Chris Bell tonight, and sings "I Am the Cosmos". I love little Ken Stringfellow, who usually bounces off the walls at any given Posies show, and have to give him credit for reining it in to make it Alex and Jody’s party. He is filling the Andy Hummel spot. They are appropriately reverent with the material, and bring their best to it.

They did a good chunk of Radio City and #1 Record, all the big tunes: "On The Street", "September Gurls", "Thirteen". And they seemed to be having a great time, which is always a trick when you play the same tunes for 30 years running. They played few songs from "In Space", their reunion album that didn't quite capture their original spirit. They threw in a few covers: the Kinks' "Til The End of the Day", and had a hard time maintaining straight faces during Todd Rundgren's "Slut".

My only quibble: they could’ve played a little more from "Third", but with so much great material, it's gotta end sometime and it did, too soon. I got my apple and left. I walked about a mile to catch one of the scarce cabs, but it that was fine. It was warm night with few stars and a light breeze off the bay...it felt good, the perfect way to wrap up the long Indian summer.


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