HUDSON — Having formed in 1976, The Feelies date back to the first generation of punk-rock. Their melodic guitars, manic vocals, and stripped-down sound — itself influenced largely by the Velvet Underground and Television — would go on to influence legions of alternative rock, collegiate rock, and indie-rock groups, including R.E.M., Talking Heads, the Violent Femmes, Yo La Tengo, and the Replacements, although mainstream success forever eluded the Hoboken, N.J.-based group dubbed by the Village Voice in 1978 “the best underground band in New York.” For me, the video for “Sooner or Later” perfectly captures that sound that launched a thousand bands.
Supporting the release of their first four albums, the band appeared on the “The Late Show with David Letterman” and in concerts with the Patti Smith Group, R.E.M., and Bob Dylan, as well as touring with Lou Reed. The group even appeared in Jonathan Demme’s 1986 film, “Something Wild,” portraying a party band playing a cover of David Bowie’s “Fame.”
The Feelies have always been masters of rock minimalism, combining basic, repetitive riffs with soaring vocal melodies (or talk-sung lyrics) and sinuous, catchy guitar lines, as in “Let’s Go” and “The Boy With the Perpetual Nervousness.”
The group’s rocky career saw them sporadically release albums and play shows throughout the 1980s until they first called it quits in 1992. They regrouped in 2008, and since then they’ve been regulars on the indie-rock club circuit, having released several new albums, including last year’s “In Between,” which Pitchfork called “as precise and efficient as it is casual and comfortable” while describing the group’s telegraphic interplay thusly: “They’re masters at weaving their moving parts into a kinetic whole.” Glenn Mercer did an in-depth interview with Paste Magazine on the occasion of the album’s release.
The group is still led by founding guitarists and songwriters Glenn Mercer and Bill Million. In this article by my old pal Jim Sullivan, former rock critic at the Boston Globe, he explores the strange phenomenon of why the Feelies actually rarely play out, much less tour.
The Feelies celebrated their 40th anniversary two years ago with a concert at the Great Hall at Woodlands in Maplewood, N.J. In addition to a journey through the band’s own music, the setlist included covers of songs by Buddy Holly, the Rolling Stones, Jonathan Richman, the Beatles, the Velvet Underground, the Doors ... even Neil Diamond. And Yo La Tengo showed up to join in during the encores and help celebrate their fellow indie-rockers. And you can watch the entire 2+ hour affair here. If you’ve only got a half-hour to spare, check them out in this 35-minute set at Vintage Vinyl.
If you’ve never seen the Feelies, then do yourself a favor and catch these legends in concert while you still can. If you’ve already seen them, well then, I know I’ll see you there!
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