TVD Live: The Feelies at the 9:30 Club, 6/22

PHOTO: DOUG SEYMOUR | The fast jangle and hypnotic rhythms of The Feelies is not just a warm throwback to 1980s when their first album ushered in a precise kind of frantic nerd rock, influencing a number of other bands. By now, the band is a standard-bearer for an enduring strain of New York rock. With its droning chords, flighty solos, pounding drums, and deadpan vocals, it’s the closest thing to the Velvet Underground in the 21st Century.

It’s a homage the quintet acknowledged in its splendid and generous return performance at the 9:30 Club Friday night. Two of the four covers in their series of encores were from the Velvets. And the harder rocking selections from their latest material from their 2017 album In Between forge the same heady path, particularly the title song. It was presented, as on the album, in two ways, the original and in an expanded psychedelicized version in the encores. By the end, Glenn Mercer was rubbing his guitar neck against the microphone, which you wouldn’t have expected such a reserved person to do.

Mercer is paired with the similarly bespectacled and overly reserved Bill Million, with Mercer taking on all the lead vocals and most of the lead guitar work, as Million adds the textures of his rhythmic guitar. The two barely spoke to the crowd and could scarcely bring themselves to even look up at them, despite the adoration.

To their left, Brenda Sauter began the show creating tones on guitar on the opening “When Company Comes.” She became a third percussionist late in the show, hitting a standing tom. But mostly she played bass, sang some harmonies, and acted like Earth translator for the rest of the front line, saying thanks from time to time. “You make us feel so welcome,” she said at the outset.

The back line looked as grim and relentless as a factory’s third shift with Dave Weckerman holding it down on the conventional drum kit (though he sometimes hit the drums with maracas and other variations). But it was Stan Demeski who was pulling out all manner of toys from Casiotone to mini-xylophone to tambourine, hitting his stride perhaps by alternating castanets with a Fisher Price Happy Apple (woefully under-amplified). The avant squeak on his recorder at one point added a free jazz element.

The shyness meant some awkward silences between songs, as the two guitarists crouched to tune near their pedals. Some in the crowd thought to yell out at these moments, just to fill them in., but there was a steady engine driving things all night once the music began. In Between sounds slower in pace than it did when played live, an insistence matched in the songs they grabbed from each one of their other albums.

Saving the covers until the encores is a smart way to not detract from the accomplishments of their originals, so singular in sound over all these decades. But at the show’s end, in addition to the Velvets, they pulled out some other guitar giants they admired, starting with Neil Young (with the ever anthemic “Rockin’ in the Free World,” the closest they might have gotten to political content in the nation’s capital.) But then they turned to those other influential New Yorkers, Television, for “See No Evil.” They paused to insert their own songs amid the encores too, from one of their earliest songs, “Fa Ce-La,” to the sprawling reprise on the new album.

The Feelies live is still kind of a rare thing. They have occasional shows here and there but rarely put together a string of dates. Their last show had been in April. Some in the crowd flew in from Colorado, and the band rose to the occasion. Despite his stage reserve, Mercer managed to break a string at one point. And by the end, there were so many technical problems that their single roadie, running ragged on stage and getting his own applause at one point, simply could not keep up. So they ended, Sauter explained, with a lullaby, “So Far” from the 2011’s Here Before.

SETLIST
When Company Comes
In Between
Later On
Time Will Tell
Turn Back Time
Stay the Course
Make It Clear
Been Replaced
Should Be Gone
Nobody Knows
The High Road
Let’s Go
On the Roof
Original Love

Waiting
Decide
Change Your Mind
Gone, Gone, Gone
Higher Ground
For Awhile
The Final Word
Away
Two Rooms
Loveless Love
Doin’ It Again
Sooner or Later
Too Far Gone
Raised Eyebrows
Crazy Rhythms

Rock and Roll
Rockin’ in the Free World

Fa Ce-La
In Between (Reprise)

I Can’t Stand It
See No Evil

So Far

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