2008 has already seen the return of the Verve, My Bloody Valentine and Portishead, among others. Still, it was the announcement of the Feelies reunion that probably brought the most joy to those reared on the jangly guitar pop that characterized American alternative music for much of the ’80s. Though never awarded the commercial success of some of their contemporaries (R.E.M., Sonic Youth, et. al), the Haeldon, NJ band left a deep and lasting mark on the then-emerging indie scene before abruptly disbanding in 1992. That legacy was honored by the 7,000 fans who gave up BBQ grills in favor of attending the Feelies’ NYC reunion gig – opening for Sonic Youth at River 2 River’s free July 4 concert in Manhattan’s Battery Park.
Sonic Youth may have been the headliner, but it was the Feelies that brought the day’s biggest fireworks. The five-member band – the same quintet that was present when the group parted ways — played an energetic, career-spanning show that drew from each of their four albums. From the start, the Feelies sounded impressively tight for a group that just got off of a 16-year break (three warm-up gigs in Hoboken, NJ earlier in the week helped shake off some of the dust). But by mid-set, the group was practically soaring through the classics — including highlights like “On the Roof,” “Away” and “Doin’ It Again” — and even dropping a new song or two into the mix.
After ending their 50-minute set with a scorching, extended version of “Crazy Rhythms,” the band returned for an encore (a rare occurance for an opener) that featured a cover of Wire’s “Outdoor Miner” and their own underground hit “Fa Cé-La.” The crowd’s enthusiasm was undoubtedly matched by the members of Sonic Youth, who helped the Feelies get on the River 2 River bill in the first place. And the latter group’s distinctive, distortion-heavy sound proved to be the perfect complement to the former’s lighter brand of alt-rock.
Because they had no new material to promote (or maybe because the Feelies set put them in a nostalgic mood), Sonic Youth dipped deep into their catalog and delivered a set that reached back to their earliest recordings. Kicking off with the 1982 gem “She Is Not Alone,” the band blazed through classics like ‘83’s “Making the Nature Scene,” ‘95’s “Bull in the Heather,” and several tunes from their landmark ‘86 album “Daydream Nation.”
On stage, the band thrilled the hometown crowd with its usually tricks – washes of guitar feedback continuously flowed from Lee Ranaldo’s amp while Thurston Moore used drumsticks, speaker cabinets, and anything else he could get his hands on to produce his signature wall of sound. The set wasn’t without its hiccups — Kim Gordon had to restart “Drunk Butterfly” after forgetting the lyrics, and Moore’s awkward Obama-endorsing political speech seemed out of place, even on July 4th – but it didn’t matter. Even if Sonic Youth had played a perfect show, Independence Day would have still belonged to the Feelies. And no one could have been happier about that than the band that literally followed in their footsteps.