October 12, 2008

That Was The Show That Was: The Feelies At The Roxy

The Feelies, Roxy, Boston, 2008
We mention in these electronic pages fairly regularly that we turned on to many great bands during our early teenage years due to Spin Magazine's then-very-reliable assessments of the American underground. In March 2007 we wrote here:
"[w]e rhapsodize about this fairly regularly, but time was you could trust your glossy music magazines to make decent recommendations. And so it was that in 1988 or so Spin or some similar outfit gave The Feelies' Only Life a glowing review so we walked across our suburb to the indie store in the basement of a building on the other side of the train tracks and bought it. On cassette, no less. The band broke up three years later after releasing the excellent Time For A Witness. And then we didn't have The Feelies anymore."

Only Life is an odd place to start with the beloved, jittery New Jersey-based indie rock act, which formed in 1976. But we were simply too young during the band's earlier heyday. Even so, we loved those final two records, and delved into the earlier recordings only after arriving at WESU Middletown in 1994.

Last night at Boston's Roxy the band delivered an intense 70-minute set and two equally robust clutches of encores. It was the final performance of the small batch of dates the band has played since first reuniting over the summer after breaking up 17 years ago. The Feelies noticably hit their stride several songs into the evening when proffering "Deep Fascination" and "Higher Ground" back-to-back. Mercer's icy and over-driven leads sliced through the mix, and as the set wore on drummer Stanley Demeski's pounding grew increasingly louder and insistent. A crescendo of white noise mid-set brought down the house, Mercer's quiet demeanor was occasionally punctuated with caffienated pogoing, and the mysterious Bill Million bobbed and weaved as he coaxed chords and licks from his guitar while the songs cascaded by too fast to keep a mental list. Somewhere in there was what sounded like a brand-new song, and "Too Far Gone" and "Crazy Rhythms" were given mind-bending workouts. The encores drew heavily on the familiar cover tunes that The Feelies have been faithful to throughout its career, including The Rolling Stones' "Paint It Black," The Beatles' "She Said, She Said," The Modern Lovers' "I Wanna Sleep In Your Arms" and The Velvet Underground's "What Goes On." Those latter two acts are perhaps the most obvious precursors to The Feelies sound.

As we reported earlier this year, The Feelies -- or at least laconic and cigarette-shaped singer and guitarist Glenn Mercer -- are working on reissuing of its four records, including Crazy Rhythms (1980) and The Good Earth (1986), which are all out of print currently (curiously, Amazon claims to be able to sell you new copies of Only Life). These will apparently be released by Bar/None. A person we've spoken with who is in a pretty good position to know reports that The Feelies are uncertain about their ability to secure the rights for the final two records, which were originally issued on A&M; which was acquired by Polygram; which was acquired by Seagram's and merged into Universal and folded into the label group's existing Interscope-Geffen operations; according to Wikipedia. All of which apparently makes finding an attorney at Universal that can even figure out that the company owns the master recordings to Only Life and Time For A Witness sound impossible.

On a sidenote, more often than not we are one of the older fans at the rock shows we see nowadays. This was certainly not the case last night, as the adoring and vocal crowd at The Roxy was filled with the largest amalgamation of, ahem, mature hipsters we've ever seen in one place. Word on the street is The Feelies have been recording some of the recent spate of reunion shows, but there is no word now what might be done with them. According to this very good story in the Patriot Ledger, all five members of The Feelies are interested in recording new music, so with any luck the story of The Feelies in the 21st Century is only beginning to be written. The band currently has only one additional reunion date planned, a New Year's Eve gig with Hoboken-based indie legends in their own right Yo La Tengo.

The Feelies -- "Fa Ce La" -- Crazy Rhythms
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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the review! Still dying to see the Feelies ... but a Colorado date is probably not forthcoming. Only Life seems to have been reissued (bare bones style) by Water -- I saw it in the Virgin Megastore this week! But those records definitely deserve some kind of deluxe treatment. Hope Bar/None can get it all sorted.