There were two things the young women serving drinks behind the Hunter Center’s makeshift bar at MASS MoCA had never seen: a member of a band come over post-performance and buy beer to bring backstage (it was bespectacled Feelies drummer Stanley Demeski ordering Berkshire Beer Company porter and stout).
And they had never seen a band come back onstage three times at the end of the show, as the Feelies did during a series of covers-filled encores that found them paying tribute to their friends in the recently retired R.E.M. with a forceful version of “Carnival of Sorts (Box Car)” from 1982’s Chronic Town – an EP no doubt influenced by the Feelies in the first place.
A lone plastic beer cup flew onstage – the civilized MASS MoCA crowd’s one stab at anarchy – as the Feelies then launched into the Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” which they followed with the Beatles’ “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey,” a song the Feelies sped up and transformed with jittery, clattering percussion on their classic 1980 “Crazy Rhythms” album.
The Feelies are much more than their cover songs, of course, but it was hard to deny that the encore portion of the MASS MoCA show was a highlight. In part that was because the band – guitarists Glenn Mercer and Bill Million, percussionists Demeski and Dave Weckerman and bassist Brenda Sauter – was fully firing at that point. Since reuniting in 2008 after a 17-year hiatus, the Feelies typically play two sets, warming up slow at first and tinkering with their sound, only to return after the intermission to sizzle and crack and explode the doors off the place.
That was the case at MASS MoCA, with a first set filled with gentler jangle-rock pastorals from 1986’s “The Good Earth” and from the Feelies’ excellent recent release, “Here Before,” their first post-reunion album. Before breaking for intermission, they played a rare but powerful Bob Dylan tune they’ve covered before, “Seven Days” – Mercer adopting a Dylanesque growl.
Upon return, the Feelies started really ripping into things during “Away” (elevated by its “taking me higher… set me on fire” lyrics) and an amped-up “Slipping (Into Something).” You’d hate to overuse the term “guitar god,” but surely it applied to Mercer as he spun around the stage, soloing like a man on fire during the incendiary “Too Far Gone.” And set closer “Crazy Rhythms” – driven by Demeski’s propulsive percussion, Mercer’s acerbic delivery and the band’s great anticipation-building timing – was the Feelies at their quirky-genius best.
Story and photographs by KIRSTEN FERGUSON
Published on www.nippertown.com, 11/17/11