At 10 on Saturday night, Ken Stringfellow stood onstage in Valentine’s downstairs room and looked out at the sparse crowd of just over 20 that had gathered around the bar. He then immediately stepped off stage with his electric guitar and began to play.
For the next hour and a half, Stringfellow — of Posies, R.E.M. and Big Star fame — proceeded to play one of the most emotionally intense and intimate shows ever to hit Albany. With guitar strapped to his body, Stringfellow wandered around the crowd, sans microphone, strumming and belting out his songs — most of them from his latest solo album “Danzig in the Moonlight” — and occasionally stopping in front of audience members to sing directly to them. (As an aside, it’s nerve-wracking to take notes on a singer-songwriter who is literally singing directly into your ear.) He returned to the stage throughout the evening for the keyboard-based songs, but even then he mostly eschewed the microphone and maintained a hushed living room-quality to the entire performance.
Stringfellow kicked things off with a chunk of songs from “Danzig in the Moonlight,” opening with the ponderously titled “Even the Forgers Were Left Fingering the Fakes” and segueing into the starkly melodic “110 or 220V,” one of a handful of songs with harmonica. These bare performances stood in stark contrast to the recorded versions, which featured all manner of guest players, synthesizers, strings and horns. In an interview with the Gazette last week, Stringfellow talked about being able to deliver a more emotional performance when playing solo — the proof was all here this night.
After an uplifting version of “You’re the Gold,” Stringfellow sat behind the keyboards for the first time. (He went back and forth between instruments all night, playing two or three songs before switching up again.) His stunning vocal performance on “Drop Your Pride,” which grew increasingly louder as the song progressed, inspired an audience member to buy him a whiskey. He followed this by quieting down for a few numbers, including the melancholic love song “Let Me Do.”
Stringfellow kept his set firmly rooted in his four solo albums, eschewing any well-known Posies or Big Star tunes. It wasn’t all about “Danzig in the Moonlight” either — “Find Yourself Alone” from 2001’s “Touched” was one of the most nakedly emotional things Stringfellow played all evening, while “Too True” stung thanks to Stringfellow’s raw vocal delivery.
Towards the end of the set, Stringfellow invited local singer-songwriter Olivia Quillio up to sing the duet “Doesn’t it Remind You of Something,” originally recorded with Charity Rose Theilen. Quillio’s jazzier delivery worked quite well in this setting, even if Stringfellow’s joking asides occasionally threw off the performance. As with the rest of the set, the warm, comfortable delivery allowed the raw emotions in the song to spring forth.
Albany power-poppers Mod Fiction opened the show with a thundering set of melodic hard rock not too dissimilar from some of the Posies’ early records — making the group a perfect fit. Original songs like the drop-D riff laden “Startoned” and the bouncy sing-along “Cindy Froze” got the small crowd tapping their toes, while stomping covers of Nirvana’s “Serve the Servants” and Neil Young’s “Like a Hurricane,” which turned into an extended noise jam, pumped up the energy in the small room.