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The Feelies Are Back

This was one musical reunion show I was really looking forward to, and it did not disappoint. The Feelies played in Chicago last night for the first since putting out their fourth record in 1991. I saw them only once back in the day, and that concert was a bit truncated because one of the band members was ill. So it almost felt like I was seeing them for the first time when they took the stage June 29 at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park. (Another fabulous free show at this lovely venue!)

The Feelies do their thing without a lot of fuss or showmanship, so it somehow seemed apt that the band came onstage and then paused for a minute to work out some technical difficulties, not saying anything to the audience. And then, they suddenly burst right into the opening chords of their 1991 song “For Awhile.” What followed was an almost-perfect run through of great tunes from all four Feelies albums: Bill Million’s trademark chords strummed over and over, Glenn Mercer’s cool, understated vocals, bassist Brenda Sauter’s melodic bass lines, Mercer’s tuneful, piercing guitar solos building on top of those cycling chords. And of course, those Feelies rhythms. And some songs, the beat stayed steady as drummer-percussionists Stanley Demeski and Dave Weckerman kept things constantly shaking. And other tunes, the beat began slow then accelerated, as the band seemed to shift again and again into higher gears. A song might being like pastoral folk rock and end in a frenzy.

Towards the end of the show, a young man danced his way into the empty area between the front row and the stage, twitching with the sort of spastic moves that looked perfect for the jerky sounds of songs from the first Feelies album, Crazy Rhythms. A park security guard led this fellow away, but he came back a minute later and continued dancing. That seemed to open the flood gates, as people jumped to the front area of the pavilion and started twitching along. Feelies lead singer and guitarist Glenn Mercer seemed to revel in the moment, coming out to the edge of the stage for guitar solos inches away from the upraised hands of fans (some of whom looked way too young to remember the last time the Feelies were around).

The Feelies played two new songs, both of which sounded like they’ll be great additions to the band’s discography whenever it gets around to recording them. The group encored with two rousing covers: R.E.M.’s “Carnival of Sorts (Boxcars)” and the Velvet Underground’s “What Goes On” (which the Feelies originally did on the 1988 record Only Life), plus their own song “a Cé-La.” And then something wonderful happened that you don’t see often at the Pritzker Pavilion — a second encore. People clapped and even pounded on the edge of the stage, making quite a racket. They would not let the Feelies leave without at least one more song. And so the band came back out and did another cool cover, the Rolling Stones’ “Paint It, Black.”

At one point during the show, Sauter told the crowd, “Thank you for waiting 20 years.” It was a long wait, but it sure was great to see and hear the Feelies playing last night in front of an adoring, lively crowd.

Photos of the Feelies.

(I’ll post photos and blog soon about the other bands I saw Monday at the Pritzker Pavilion, Feelies opening act Icy Demons and the noontime act, Black Moth Super Rainbow.)

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