Still Feeling the Feelies | Bleader

Monday, September 28, 2009

Still Feeling the Feelies

Posted By on 09.28.09 at 05:41 PM

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Crazy Rhythms
  • Crazy Rhythms
One of my favorite concerts this year was the Feelies' show in Millennium Park on June 29. Saying the Feelies were great won’t surprise anybody who knows the band—every time I’ve seen them, going back to 1986, they’ve put on a phenomenal show, the kind that seems to levitate you where you stand. They got off to a bumpy start this summer, with guitarist Glenn Mercer flubbing his solos on the first couple songs—for a few minutes I was worried the band had lost their old precision. But before long they settled into the zone and everything was right with the world.

Though the Feelies started playing together again in summer 2008, since then their bookings have been so infrequent and isolated that it seems crazy to consider them an attempt to promote the reissues of their first two albums, which came out on Bar/None three weeks ago. At any rate, I can’t get too worked up about the question of whether their reunion was motivated by a love of music or by a love of royalty checks—I’m too glad to have both the band and those early records back in circulation.

Crazy Rhythms was originally released on Stiff Records in 1980; I first heard a few cuts from it a couple years later on a mix tape made by the brother of a friend. That mix didn't include any information at all about its contents, though, so it wasn't till the day I heard a college radio DJ identify one of the tunes as a Feelies track that I knew what album to go searching for. I finally found it in 1983 at Wax Trax Records, and to this day it remains one of my all-time favorites, nerdy cover portrait and all.

The Feelies’ guitars—Bill Million’s trademark strumming and Mercer’s manic but sensual leads—are a natural focal point, but the drumming of Anton Fier, who’d go on the form Golden Palominos, is just as riveting. Even today, let alone in 1980, it’s pretty unusual to hear a rock song use drums to express its melody, as “Raised Eyebrows” does. And Crazy Rhythms is aptly titled in more ways than that: tunes accelerate and decelerate in giddy rushes, toy with volume and density, and warp time with tangled contrapuntal interactions.

The Feelies refused to include bonus material on the reissue, standing behind the original sequence of the album and insisting that tacking on extra tracks would diminish it; in this case I don’t disagree. But the disc comes with a coupon good for downloads of a few extra songs: the 1979 Rough Trade single version of “Fa Cé-La,” two demos of album tracks, and two live recordings from March of this year.

The Good Earth
  • The Good Earth
When the band released The Good Earth in 1986 on Coyote Records, I knew they still existed in some form—a couple of years prior they’d played a suburban club I was too young to get into—but I hadn’t expected a new record. Coproduced by Peter Buck of R.E.M., a band that cited the Feelies as a key influence, it was much more sedate-sounding album, despite the fact that Fier had been replaced by two players, drummer Stan Demeski and percussionist Dave Weckerman. A new bassist, Brenda Sauter, had also come aboard; all three had been part of the constellation of Hoboken bands closely related to the Feelies, which included the Trypes, Yung Wu, and the Willies.

Though the heavy strumming was still there, the sound leaned more toward the acoustic; the rhythms were loose and swinging rather than tightly wound and frenetic. But the band hadn’t lost its edge, and most of the songs still cranked post-VU grooves into controlled frenzies, while Mercer’s increasingly lyrical solos cast a different kind of spell. The Feelies had managed to produce another classic, even while significantly altering their sound and approach. The downloadable bonus tracks for The Good Earth include the two non-LP tracks from the preceding No One Knows EP—covers of the Beatles’ “She Said She Said” and Neil Young’s “Sedan Delivery”—along with another live track from the March concert.

Today’s playlist:

Franz Koglmann, Lo-Lee-Ta (Col Legno)
Tim Hart & Maddy Prior, Heydays (Castle)
Michael Blake & Kresten Osgood, Control This (Clean Feed)
Moritz Von Oswald Trio, Vertical Ascent (Honest Jon’s)
Anna Luisa, Girando (Universal, Brasil)

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