The Bell House
Friday, April 27
Better than: Talking.
Even 35 years later, the Feelies aren’t terribly loquacious. Watching them on stage, in fact, can make one feel like a positive extrovert. “We’re going to play a few more songs, and take a break,” was the most compelling thing any one of them said for most of their two-set, six-encore show at Bell House on Friday. It took them until the end of the second half to get to their theme song, “Crazy Rhythms,” with Glenn Mercer’s beautifully meta plea, “I don’t talk much ’cause it gets in the way, don’t let it get in the way.” But nobody in the sold-out room probably needed to be reminded. “STOP TALKING!” somebody in the crowd shouted ironically at one point.
Not that the Feelies seemed unhappy to be there. Their between-song silence only reinforced the authenticity of the frequent moments when the band—Mercer in particular—would churn into motion, falling around the stage in unreserved ecstasy. Like Mission of Burma and Dinosaur Jr., the Feelies’ 2008 reunion is of the blessed pick-up-where-they-left-off variety, focused on great new songs. The two sets were anchored by tunes from last year’s Here Before, as well as favorites from 1979’s Crazy Rhythms and 1986’s The Good Earth.
But more than merely sounding good, the Feelies’ music felt alive. Throughout the night, the quartet reinforced that—despite their indie forefather status—they remain first and foremost a band one can dance to, as demonstrated by the young couple that careened heedlessly and (almost) endearingly around the front of the club for the duration of the show. The Feelies had—and have—their very own rhythmic language, an adjunct probably to the Velvet Underground’s, with the blissful ability to fall into drum patterns below Mercer and Bill Million’s Brian Eno guitar twinkles, like on the thunderously syncopated dual parts “Raised Eyebrows,” or accelerate into a snare-on-every-count stomp, like a slide-driven tear through “The Final Word,” from 1988’s Only Life.
The key to the Feelies reunion, in fact, is that their rhythmic core never really stopped at all. A classic indie collective with almost literally dozens of incarnations, the trio of Mercer, Demeski, and Weckerman continued on in a variety of guises after the Feelies’ 1991 break-up, preserving the all-important beat like a flame in Wake Ooloo, Sunburst, Yung Wu, and other bands. Feelies songs are not particularly complicated, the kind of thing that is easy to write accidentally with a basic knowledge of chords, a love for the Velvet Underground, and an interest in playing rock. But their arrangements are where their true bliss-making abilities are expressed, and the band soared through them one after another at Bell House, woodblocks and fuzz patterns moving thoughtfully in and out of the songs, urging them towards guitar epiphany. Mercer hopped about. Million moved backwards and forwards in a neat line. And, as a friend tweeted, “Dave Weckerman: single-handedly redeeming the role of the auxiliary percussionist from the back corner of the stage…”
Legendarily, the Feelies tinkered with their songs between every show, adding or removing parts, and though they mostly seem to have settled into routine by now, the band’s old songs continue to sound far more vivid in a live setting. Their intense attention to detail didn’t waver throughout the duration of the two sets. While crowd members began to peel off after the first encore, those that remained did so fervently; the band played what amounted to a third set of songs they hadn’t gotten to yet, and that mostly consisted of their Feelied-up trove of covers, which included the expected “Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except Me and My Monkey”—perhaps the best audible example of the ecstatic Feelies beat in the wild—but also Jonathan Richman (“I Want To Sleep In Your Arms”), R.E.M. (“Carnival of Sorts”), and a 1978 Bob Dylan outtake (“Seven Days”).
A forgotten member of CBGB’s class of 1977, the Feelies’ true impact came later, and it isn’t quite done. They play often on holidays, but any occasion for a Feelies show is a reason for celebration, and that by itself is a tremendous impact to have some three decades later, bolstered by an audience—including the obnoxious/endearing dancing couple and plenty of other fans who never caught them in their early years—that enthusiastically kept pulling the band back, even after the house lights and music had been turned on. “Thank you, Brooklyn—we love you,” Mercer said during one of the encores, finally, not quite a speedy mumble and not quite a bark. Authenticity is overrated, but it’s not often those words can sound so convincing.
Critical bias: Bootlegged the last Yung Wu show.
Overheard: “He totally looked like he was going to talk there. He stepped up to the mic like he was going to do it, but then he faked us out.”
Random notebook dump: Legit use of rainstick!!