New Jersey is known for plenty a classic punk or alternative band, from My Chemical Romance to Lifetime to, of course, The Misfits, Gaslight Anthem or more recently, O+ alumni Screaming Females. One band who arguably helped form a strong chunk of the alt-rock foundation as we know it, but who aren’t these days as hailed as they were during the ’80s, are Glenn Mercer’s veteran act The Feelies. Rolling Stone lists their debut, 1980’s Crazy Rhythms, as one of the best albums of the ’80’s and unlike some of their more indulgent lists, (like when it idiotically said The Life of Pablo by Kanye is better than Bowie’s Blackstar this year) it’s hard to argue otherwise.
On Saturday, July 16 you can and should catch the act at BSP Kingston. (NOTE: There are still some tickets available.) The $25 (18-plus) ticket is more than deserved for a band who cast a shadow big enough to influence R.E.M. and Sonic Youth. Their music has even been featured recently in the films Married to the Mob, Something Wild, Prelude to a Kiss, The Truth About Charlie, The Squid & the Whale and Ricki and the Flash.
“It sounds so obvious but back then each group tried to sound unique,” Mercer tells me. “Nowadays it is the opposite, which is not an environment that fosters creativity. But back then it really did matter. I remember the first CBGB rock festival had about thirty to forty bands playing and every one had a unique spin on what they were doing. You had to be original. When we started we felt kind of generic, actually. We really weren’t but we became more unique because we took a lot of different elements and expounded on them.”
African drumming, big-band music, composer Philip Glass and more went into the Feelies’ unique stew, helping lend their quirky pop-rock a more vibrant sound. The closest thing to it rhythmically for the times might be Can or Talking Heads, but The Feelies have a sort of leaner, spare quality that recalls their influences The Velvet Underground almost as a more linear punk band. They even had some blazing early solos which, to my ears, recall Zappa (though Mercer says Frank was never a big influence). Still, it takes a certain love of extended jams to be able to pull off three-hour shows.
“People always ask how we do it but it doesn’t seem hard. We’re so used to it now that if we don’t it doesn’t feel as rewarding,” Mercer says. “We hate leaving songs out because we might be leaving out someone’s favorite.”
Celebrating almost as decades as a band as fingers on a picking hand, did Mercer ever think he would still be doing this after so long?
“Well, I probably wouldn’t have been surprised to know I am still doing music,” Mercer said. “The biggest surprise is that it is with The Feelies, but I never looked at it as a juvenile endeavor you grow out of. People say, ‘Rock ’n’ roll? Aren’t you a little old for that?’ but I don’t ever think that way.”
We talk about the tendency people have to want to freeze, music stars like, say, Buddy Holly or Jim Morrison in time, though many of their still living contemporaries continue to perform and do just fine.
“As long as you are having fun and expanding your craft, go for it,” Mercer says. “We’ve played BSP a year and a half ago and I’ve done other shows there with The Trypes. I kind of like the smaller shows where you have the crowd right up front giving you a lot of energy. It all depends on how it sounds.”
Well, it was an eventful week. Cersei Lannister is my new spirit animal, the kind of woman who I would probably think was not in the least bit problematic and try to date (before remembering we aren’t related). Elsewhere, all I can say is, England … you Brexit you bought it. But America has #Trumpgirlsbreaktheinternet which is really just breaking God’s heart and certainly not going to sway any other nation on Earth that we aren’t trashy idiots. On a cool note, I did watch Ride with Norman Reedus on cable this week. It’s a celebration of freedom and biker culture around the U.S. and was a surprisingly warm and moving portrait of much of America from the usually scowling and zombie killing The Walking Dead actor. It is a good little glimpse of libs and conservatives actually getting along due to shared interests.
Music recommendation for the week is the new Chron Turbine album II, released earlier this year on boutique indie label Peterwalkee Records. It features some rad ’90s-style noise rock from local Chris Turco (who plays every instrument) and there is even a song about living Kingston legend Mark Ferraro. You can check it out at https://peterwalkeerecords.bandcamp.com/album/chron-turbine-ll
Until next week, hope you all stay safe and happy out there and help bring some good times into our region. We’ve had enough tension lately, so let’s do our best to listen to one another. If that doesn’t work, make human sacrifices to Crom and apologize to him for forgetting that steel forged into a sword is the only thing in life you can trust.