Saturday night in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood I attended one of the hottest shows in town — Ken Stringfellow with the Maldives. Both Friday’s and Saturday’s shows were sell outs and that says a lot seeing how many shows were happening those same nights.
Ken Stringfellow was a founding member and half the driving force behind Seattle legends The Posies. I saw The Posies’ first show in the spring of 1988, gave them one of their first (if not the very first) interview that same year and have been a fan ever since. Essentially, I’ve known Ken since he was a teenager and he’s barely aged. I don’t know what fountain of youth he drinks from, but he still looks pretty much the same as he did twenty-five years ago.
So my elation was at a high level when I found out I’d be going to this show. By the time I arrived, Star Anna was just finishing her set. I was sorry I missed her. She has a stunningly beautiful voice and if we weren’t living in a dumbed down society that thinks Katie Perry is the best there is, Star Anna would be filling the radio waves by now.
When I arrived she was singing the Tom Waits song “Come On Up” To the House and her voice echoed beautifully throughout the Tractor Tavern.
Ken Stringfellow was up next and backed by Seattle’s own Maldives. The band at first was Ken on vocals and keyboard, a female drummer (which is beyond way cool), two guitarists, a bass player and cello player Barbara Hunter (who left after a couple songs but returned intermittently throughout the evening). During the course of Ken’s performance, several guest musicians were on and off the stage. There were different vocalists harmonizing with Ken’s pure and crisp voice, there was a sax player and a banjo/accordion player who ventured on stage sporting a graying, scraggly beard that hung down to his mid chest, glasses and a cowboy hat. As he sauntered on stage, Ken quipped for us all not to judge a book by its cover. This guy was an amazing musician going back and forth between accordion and banjo.
For one song, Star Anna came out and sang a duet with Ken — their voices vastly different but wonderfully compatible, and the charisma they both exuded made this my favorite part of the show. Ken’s voice was in fine form throughout. He sounded one minute like he gargled with nuts and bolts, but could switch in the blink of an eye to his crisp, honey laced voice. He crooned and he hit the high notes showing an amazing range. The guitarist, Jesse Bonn, was one of the mainstays on stage throughout both Ken’s and the Maldives’ performances. He reminded me of Eric Clapton one minute, then of Pete Townshend the next, complete with leaps and partial windmills. He was nothing less than amazing.
The highlight was the finale of Ken’s performance when everyone who performed that night came on stage (I counted about twelve people and it’s a small stage) for a raucous rendition of Neil Young’s “Bite the Bullet.”
Finishing out the night was The Maldives. I’d heard of them, but never heard their songs nor had I seen them perform. I was blown away by this band. If we still lived in the mid to late sixties when you could still hear bands with depth and talent played on the radio, these guys would be chart toppers. They were country rock in the finest form. Much of their music reminded me of the old Eagles album Desperado. Lead singer/guitarist Jason Dodson is part Bob Dylan and part Neil Young, the difference being, he has a great voice. Their set also included the same guest musicians/singers who performed during the night. Amongst those were Mike and Matt Gervais from Curtains for You, Crystal Asnoushirayani, and Katie Blackstock. I’m sure I’ve omitted a few as there were so many talented performers. When our commercial stations are spewing out the likes of Train, Beyonce, Katie Perry and others with about as much depth as a bottle cap, it’s refreshing to see a show filled with vast amounts of talent. Seattle is ripe for the picking and very soon will explode onto the national scene in a major way. This will hopefully inject some talent and depth into the banal mass market we’re forced to swallow these days.