Tom Lawton gets philosophical over the 40 year old band's latest.
RESOLVED: There is a direct inverse ratio for measuring the trajectory of a band’s success, versus the level of pleasure one gets from seeing them perform live. What’s that? You didn’t visit rockerzine.com for a debate on physics? Fair enough. But stick with me while I extrapolate:
As an intelligent, discerning fan of that crazy (n)ever-changing musical genre we call rock and roll, you’re always on the lookout for a new sound that touches your deepest, most hidden emotional depth. The little voice inside your head that says “This is cool, shake your ass”. Once you find (and adopt as your own) the Band/Musician behind that sound, they come to town. But, as we’ve already made clear, you’re ahead of the popularity curve. Only you and a select few have at this point glommed on, and that nearly-secret cabal gathers for band/musician’s first local show – located perhaps in the back room or basement of a nearby gin joint. And it’s a fucking marvel. Band/Musician is great even if the show is short because they haven’t been around long enough to create deep catalog. You look at your fellow audience members and give each other a knowing nod. This is the best possible thing in the world.
Fast-forward two years: Band/Musician has steadily gained popularity and comes back to town to play a mid-sized hall. Sure, its assigned seating, but you knew they were coming, and got yourself a decent ticket. What the hell, it’s great to see them again.
Flash forward two more years: Band/Musician has made it big and are coming to town to headline the sports arena, and even though you had the password for the internet on-sale, you got a shitty ticket in the rafters. And despite your fandom, you have officially arrived at “I’m-not-sure-I-really-wanna-go”.
See? They got more popular, they made it big, but a lot of the enjoyment of the early I-was-five-feet-away-from-them-days is gone and not likely to return. I’ve been on the losing end of this scenario more times than I care to count. Is it snobbishness? Yes and no. Who doesn’t hate the “I liked them before you did” kind of fan? Still, it’s a charge to recall that you were there at the beginning, even if being there now, among the thousands, isn’t quite as great.
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This is just one of the reasons I adore The Feelies, a band who have moved at their own comfortable trajectory since the late 1970s; gigging when they felt like it, evolving with different band members, forming and reforming into a myriad of side projects, breaking up, reuniting, recording and releasing new material as it seemed right to do so. Forging a career as they see fit.
Their latest, “In Between” (Bar None) comes thirty-seven years after their first long-player – and thirty five years after I saw them for the very first time (Ha, ha, I liked them before you did! See? What an asshole), and like recent Feelies gigs it is insistent, but not consistently loud or raucous. Starting off as a campfire song circle (literally, given the crackle of flame and chittering evening songbirds that lead off track one), but one fueled by espresso. The band’s tightness is immediately on display as each member’s playing interlocks perfectly with the next, creating the aural equivalent of Spirograph artwork. “Wake up on time / Clear out your mind” Glenn Mercer advises listeners on the title track, accompanied by the strum and thrum of Bill Milllion’s guitar before churning into “Turn Back Time” and “When To Go,” a pair of tracks that have the same genetic make-up as songs from the band’s first album, but without the underlying youthful awkwardness. That’s because The Feelies of 2017 know what they are about, and they invite you along for the ride. Speeds are no longer breakneck – “Flag Days” chugs along at a stately pace while “Been Replaced” features some unhurried guitar crunch, “When to Go” is as close to a ballad as the Feelies typically get and “Time Will Tell,” is a feedback lullaby – but it all feels right, because this is rock music for folks who have found equanimity within themselves. If this sounds as though the Feelies are sitting back on their haunches somewhat, fear not. As though anticipating your concern, the band reprises the tile track as an epic nine minute guitar freak-out. Mercer splashes white noise across the mix while the firm of Weckerman, Million, Sauter and Demeski bring it home, doing what they love among the obligations and trials of adulthood, just like their fans.
While longtime fans seeking the freneticism of earlier efforts like “Fa Cé-La” or “Crazy Rhythms” are likely to be disappointed – judging “In Between” too acoustic and well-measured – those who understand that bands evolve and mature will find “In Between” a joy. Perhaps the Feelies best full length since 1988’s “Only Life.”