Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Feelies Return
I got one of those pleasant shocks yesterday afternoon while reading through some concert listings: the Feelies, a legendary band from New Jersey whom I loved as a kid, are playing two shows this weekend in New York City. Late last night I bought one ticket to see them at the Bowery Ballroom this evening; the mere fact that I'll be leaving the house after taking in simultaneous Eagles and Phillies games, both starting at 4, is enormous tribute to how excited I am at seeing these guys.

I've written before here about how so many of the bands I idolized as a teenager have reunited in recent years. Great as it's been to get the chance to see Camper van Beethoven and Mission of Burma among others, at times it almost annoys me: I'm just not sure what the point is of having Echo and the Bunnymen playing at Radio City Music Hall, as they did this week, other than the obvious profit motive. The Feelies are a little bit different, though: they seem to be doing it the right way. For one thing, it's almost like they were summoned back into existence.

The Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore recalled seeing the Feelies at the Mudd Club in the late ’70s. “They came out and proceeded to just mow the place down with their guitar playing,” he said. “And these guys were buttoned-up-collars nerd boys from the ’burbs. They were totally straight from the backyard cookout. So it was cool to be not cool.”

When Sonic Youth was asked to choose an opening act for its Fourth of July show this Friday in Battery Park, the date made Mr. Moore think about the Feelies. “I had this fond memory of the Feelies always playing on American holidays,” Mr. Moore said. “I thought, ‘Why don’t we get the Feelies? Do they exist?’ ”

That was a complicated question. Mr. Mercer, who had been playing in other groups with Feelies members, said he and Mr. Million had been talking for years about reconvening the band. “It’s not like we got mad at each other and said, ‘We broke up,’ ” Mr. Million said in a telephone interview. “We just stopped playing, as we had done periodically since we got together.”

This is true: the original Feelies lineup played in and around New York (they're from north Jersey) in the late '70s, released one album, "Crazy Rhythms," in 1980, and then essentially broke up for five or six years while playing in other combinations and under other names. They came back together to release their greatest album, "The Good Earth" and appear (playing Monkees and David Bowie covers) in Jonathan Demme's movie "Something Wild"--my favorite film as a teenager--in 1986. Then they tried to ride the not-quite-cresting wave of alternative rock, releasing strong but unspectacular albums in 1988 and 1991 before hanging 'em up. The article I linked to above notes that guitarist Bill Million simply quit and moved to Florida without leaving any contact information.

Something about their songs continued to resonate, though. The same article notes that Volvo used the Feelies song "Let's Go," from The Good Earth, in a car commercial; later it turned up on the soundtrack to "The Squid and the Whale" (making it the only Feelies song available on iTunes). I also remember hearing "Slow Down" in another car ad. I'm sure that the profit motive did play a substantial part in the band's willingness to perform with Sonic Youth and its current limited slate of shows, in NYC and points north, over the next month or so. But that they're writing together again--as Burma has since reuniting, and as Dinosaur, the Pixies and other high-profile re-formed groups haven't--seems to add something more to it.

Probably it's going to feel a little weird as a 35 year-old man tonight, watching a quintet of 40= and 50-something musicians bashing through songs I first heard as a teen. But I can't wait.


kate said...

speaking of the feelies - sonic youth connection. here's a clip of dave (and the band) talking about not ever know that sonic youth was a big fan of theirs....
the feelies on sonic youth

l.e.s.ter said...

The last time I'd seen the Feelies was opening up for Husker Du in 1986. Twenty two years later I thought they sounded even better. (More than nostalgia at least.) Sorry I didn't see you on the floor to catch up...

David said...

l.e.s.t.e.r.--I've lost your e-mail address. If you still have mine, pls send yours--I'm working on a project I'd like to tell you about.