July 1, 2008

A COMPLICATED QUESTION:

Reborn for the Fourth of July (JON PARELES, 7/01/08, NY Times)

The Feelies were a vivid apparition between 1977, when they played their debut show at a high school here, and 1991, when they released their fourth album, “Time for a Witness,” and played a final Fourth of July show at Maxwell’s. Then they disappeared. Mr. Million suddenly moved to Florida without leaving a forwarding address and gave up guitar, and the band was no more.

When the Feelies emerged — in the 1970s heyday of CBGB, Max’s Kansas City and the Mudd Club — punk and art rock around New York were awash in Minimalist drones and patterns and a primitivist return to the basics. The early Feelies made no secret of their admiration for the Stooges and the Velvet Underground. (Later they would tour with Lou Reed.) But where other bands were pouring on distortion and noise, the Feelies made their impact through precision. At early rehearsals they decided that a cymbal crash obscured a realm of high frequencies they wanted to explore, so they replaced cymbals with more clearly delineated layers of guitars and percussion.

“Our sound is defined by what we left out and didn’t play, as much as by what we did,” said Mr. Mercer in an interview at his basement studio here, where the band has been rehearsing. He looks studious behind large, horn-rimmed glasses, and measures his words. “I think in a loose way the idea of keeping it minimal goes beyond just the music. It’s my whole approach to everything. Don’t say too much whenever possible. We’re just trying to get the most impact out of the least amount.”

That impact has been especially strong on musicians. The Feelies’ guitar interplay and unassuming vocals now echo through collegiate and indie rock, both directly and via acknowledged fans like R.E.M. and Sonic Youth. They have also attracted film directors. Jonathan Demme had the band perform in a high school prom scene in “Something Wild,” and Susan Seidelman commissioned Mr. Mercer and Mr. Million to write the score for “Smithereens.”

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.



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Posted by Orrin Judd at July 1, 2008 8:44 AM

I saw them twice in the early 90's. Somewhere I've got "Crazy Rhythmns" on LP -- it came on white vinyl.

Posted by: Twn at July 1, 2008 9:48 AM

When are they going to get around to re-releasing Crazy Rhythms, anyway?

Posted by: Hunter at July 1, 2008 11:33 AM

The Feelies are out of sight!

I saw them a couple times back east when I was in college.

Good Earth remains my favorite.

I used to put that on repeat for all-nighters and just crank thru the material on my way to a solid B! 1

Well, B-, but who's counting?

Posted by: Benny at July 1, 2008 12:17 PM

You can buy some (not all) of The Feelies CD's at http://www.twintone.com/

I like the Good Earth album and the track Let's Go.

Reminds me of the 1980's (the best decade ever)!

Posted by: pchuck at July 1, 2008 12:38 PM
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