Are The Feelies the most awkward band in rock and roll? New Jersey natives The Feelies — who played an awesome two set, three encore show in Northampton, MA last night — have raised nerdiness to a such a degree of crystalline perfection that they put all other nerd bands to shame. You want to talk laconic? You want to talk taciturn? You want to talk geeky cool? The Feelies are so cool they make Weezer look like Sly and the Family Stone. They make They Might Be Giants look like Parliment Funkadelic. Next to them Leonard Cohen is GG Allin.
The Feelies just released a great new album, Here Today, and hearing it is like having an old friend back again, the same lush, mesmerizing rhythms, the same understated vocals, the same head bopping pleasure. Good stuff.
At the Pearl Street last night, The Feelies played for nearly three hours before an appreciative crowd of ‘their people,’ by which I mean white people every bit as gawky and ill-at-ease as they are. And I include myself in that group: I’m confident that I’m not the only man who attended last night’s show alone and who did not speak to another living soul the entire evening save the woman at the door and the bartender. We all showed our appreciation in classic indie rock fashion: by standing stock still with hands in pockets (or one hand cradling a beer), bopping our heads almost imperceptibly to the beat. At those times when one of our number felt the overwhelming urge to break into dance, the lurching, canted movements that resulted made it look as though he (invariably a he) was auditioning as an extra on the Walking Dead.
Their set included lovely renditions of their entire catalogue, certainly every song I know, and the new numbers fit in seamlessly with classics from The Good Earth and Only Life. Between every song there was complete silence in the club. The closest The Feelies got to stage banter was when bassist Brenda Sauter asked, “So who is graduating this weekend?” and a three, four hands went up, most of the crowd being well past graduation age. Late in the show Glenn Mercer showed a rare bit of effusion when he came back on-stage for a second encore. “We love you guys,” he said. For Glenn this was practically a filibuster.
One of Glenn’s rare song introductions occurred when they came out for their first encore, a three-song set consisting entirely of covers. “This is a song by a Boston band,” he said, “But it’s not the Cars.” Pause. “Or Boston.” The crowd, now clearly riled up by this human interaction, called out suggestions: Mission of Burma? Aerosmith? J. Geils Band? But of course it was Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers. The other two were Paint It Black and Carnival of Sorts (Boxcars) by REM.
Such a great, great show. Honestly, I don’t know why reunions ever get a bad rap. Almost invariably the best shows I’ve ever seen have been reunion shows. Gang of Four was better than ever on their reunion tour, as was Public Image Ltd. Bob Mould sounded a hell of a lot tighter doing Husker Du songs on his solo show that Husker Du ever did when they were around. I actually saw The Feelies a couple of times back in the day and I don’t remember them as being a very warm live band — back then their demeanor came off as petulant and mercurial, and they were prone to butchering their own lovely songs with impossibly fast, almost hostile renditions. Sometimes there is something to be said for the wisdom that comes with maturity.
Oh, and I bought a coffee mug.
Here are The Feelies along with those other nerd gods from New Jersey, Yo La Tengo.