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May 8, 2017

Old age does no harm to indie rock legends The Feelies

 

Every year, when the lineups for the summer’s biggest music festivals are released, some legendary band comes out of hiatus to be featured among the headlining acts. There’s no doubt that when there’s money to be made, even groups with antagonistic personal relationships can find a way to re-emerge. At the 2013 Governors Ball Music Festival (the first festival I ever attended), that band happened to be Guns N’ Roses. This upcoming year, it appears that Tool has re-emerged, ensuring that all the parents in attendance will have something to reminisce about.

Though these billings may warrant an eye-roll from those who can do without “Sweet Child O’ Mine” or “Sober” at their music festivals, the undeniable fact remains that when talented bands reunite, wonderful things can emerge artistically. In 2009, the recently-reunited Dinosaur Jr. put out the best rock album of the year with “Farm.” Less recently, the 70s punk band Television released a criminally underappreciated self-titled album in 1992, shortly after reuniting. Television is also featured in this year’s Solid Sound Festival lineup, an appearance that makes the festival worth going to in itself.

The point remains that some bands were simply never meant to remain broken up. The Feelies, a band that began by shaking up the legendary Maxwell’s in Hoboken, New Jersey back in the late 70s, is among these. Though I’m still unsure about the exact definition of “indie rock” (some “indie rockers” themselves are unsure too), I do know that The Feelies created a blend of catchy rhythms during the 70s and 80s that has heavily influenced an array of rock music today.

The Feelies’ seminal 80s albums, “Crazy Rhythms” and “The Good Earth,” gave birth to that Yo La Tengo record you endlessly played while hating high school. They’re behind each and every whimsical lyric that Pavement had you laughing and jamming out to. A taste of this influential sound can be found on the early single “Fa Cé-La,” a track that encompasses every wonderful thing that was happening and would happen to indie rock over the next two decades.

Though it feels natural to talk about a band like The Feelies in the past tense, the music that they have put out since the 80s contains a richness equal to that of their past work.

We shouldn’t take notice of the band only because, like Guns N’ Roses, we may have once liked one or two of their songs. By contrast, The Feelies’ new albums are worth our attention because they are just as catchy and beautiful as the brightest indie rock of today.

They broke their hiatus in 2011 with their excellent record, “Here Before,” reassuring all fans that they still had it in them to put out thoughtful and catchy soft rock. With “In Between” though, The Feelies have firmly re-established their musical relevance among listeners of a younger generation. Filled with catchy acoustic jams, lead singer Glenn Mercer’s beautifully-aged voice, and sharp lyrics, “In Between,” released Feb. 24, shows that the group hasn’t dimmed with age.

What has always made the band’s sound so appealing is its underlying simplicity. “Flag Days,” which takes a great guitar hook and throws some shaky maraca into the mix with Mercer’s Lou Reed-like monotone, is a notable example of this. Nothing on the record feels strained or overwrought. It almost reminds one of a casual Sunday among friends.

When I hear the final song, “In Between (Reprise),” it becomes obvious to me that music today is missing something very important that this band has in spades. The song is simply nine full minutes of pure electric guitar shredding. It proves The Feelies are more than just soft rockers, but masters of their musical instruments. Rarely does one hear nine minutes of pure, unhinged electric guitar on a major indie record today, but The Feelies seem to be having more fun than any band around, with little concern over whether listeners will remain attentive. And of course, we will.

“In Between” is the act of making music for the sake of making music. Making music is endlessly fun, why else would a band still be grinding it out after 37 years? There’s nothing that logically points to The Feelies’ consistency aside from their love of music and of art itself. They will continue to call no attention to themselves and let the great internet cult followings of today do justice to them as one of the great pillars of indie rock. You won’t see The Feelies next to Guns N’ Roses on any headlining festival list, but I think we all know which band we’d rather be listening to.

William Plotnick can be reached at wplotnick@umass.edu.

Comments
One Response to “Old age does no harm to indie rock legends The Feelies”
  1. David Fitzgerald says:

    thank you William Plotnick

    “It proves The Feelies are more than just soft rockers, but masters of their musical instruments.”

    ha ha ha ha ha

    oh, sorry

    listen to Yours Is No Disgrace by Yes

    or Roundabout also will do

    and then tell me who are masters of their instruments

    hint: Steve Howe on guitar and Chris Squire on bass

    hey, have a nice day

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