Saturday, 17 November 2012

863 KEN STRINGFELLOW, The Hazey Janes, London The Lexington, Thursday 15 November 2012

Bloody Typical, this; no sooner had Tim twisted my arm and persuaded me to join him on this London jaunt to see Posies mainman Ken Stringfellow flying solo, than Ken announces a date at the (much closer) Thekla in Bristol! Bah! Nevertheless, and also despite being slightly disappointed on initial listens with his new solo effort “Danzig In The Moonlight”, I was up for this; I’m always prepared to give a fair amount of rope to a man who’s still capable of the dazzling pop found on the Posies last effort, a couple of years back, plus “live” (although it’s been seven years since I’ve seen him treading the boards) the man can either be utterly sublime, or completely bat-shit crazy (and often deshabille). So let’s see which Ken turns up tonight…

Tim picked us up for this jaunt to a new venue on the Pentonville Road, (myself still coughing loads as we reach day 20 of this fucking horrible cold), enduring horrible traffic on the M4 offset by a surprisingly easy run through London, and parking up behind the old Water Rats venue at 8.30 for a 10 minute walk up the hill to this evocative old upstairs ballroom venue which recalled the old Hammersmith Clarendon! Sat at the raised bar, which afforded a good view of the stage, for support The Hazey Janes, on as we arrived at 8.30. Led by a bearded geography teacher type vocalist, they played some upbeat numbers of chunky and melodic powerpop in a similar vein to Myracle Brah (remember them?), with some soaring choruses and beguiling country licks, but conversely some odd chord and key changes as well. Still, they’d driven down from Dundee today (!) so kudos for that effort at least! Their final number was their best, a swirling and droney noisefest which made me miss El Nino (remember them??).

We had some Doors over the PA which I liked, then Ken took the stage halfway through “LA Woman”, at 9.15 sharp. “I’m going to work on one demisphere; there’s nothing to hemisphere but fear itself,” he cryptically announced before his opening salvo, delivered on an acoustic guitar, and without the aid of a microphone!

Initially, this was fine, but his clear and balming voice sounded a little strained without amplification when he took to the keyboard for “Shit Talkers”, the most melodically Posies-like number from his current record. A discordant, Scott Walker-like “Drop Your Pride” finally saw him using a mic, although the set remained low-key and restrained.

This was an odd, wilful and perverse performance from Ken; in between numbers he pontificated endlessly on myriad subjects such as death (“maybe it’s the giant orgasm!”), himself (“I’m incapable of following a set-list; I’ve got many issues, cognitive and otherwise”), the end of the world (“we’ve all got a front row seat!”) and Mitt Romney (“you don’t want a guy with pent-up sexual frustration on a nuclear arsenal”). This was often diverting, but without someone to rein him in (sorely needed tonight) it inevitably ventured into dull hectoring and preaching, and without the plangent pop of some Posies material to lighten the mood (the set selection was pretty exclusively solo stuff, mainly from his – still disappointing – new album), I quickly lost attention and, well, got bored…

There were some nice moments, actually; a lovely “Find Yourself Alone” was delivered from the dancefloor, as the front rows videoed Ken with their phones; and The Hazey Janes backed him up for the final numbers (“I liked them so much I bought the company!” Ken announced in a Victor Kiam moment) and lent their melodic and upbeat air to the previously dour proceedings. But overall this was a rambling, unfocussed and incredibly variable performance, the shining moments unfortunately outweighed by tedium, and at the thick end of 2 hours, waaaaay too long as well.

Ken ended the night by thanking practically everyone involved in the gig and his album; he should have thanked the audience for their infinite patience as well. I’m sorry Ken, but this was just hard work tonight, exacerbated by a home arrival at 1 am. Yikes!

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