The general rule regarding influential artists is that popular success dictates the lasting impact of one’s work, although rare exceptions exist. While two of the most influential and innovative pop & rock bands of the 60s, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, have remained successful favorites decade after decade, influencing generations of wannabes and imitators. Rare is the band like The Velvet Underground, who sold modestly and rarely earned any radio airplay, to have such a broad and impressive influence across a wide swath of indie rock and alternative soundscapes, eventually getting all four of their Lou Reed-impacted albums listed in Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest rock albums of all time. The long-time trope is a quote attributed to producer Brian Eno (also with Roxy Music), that the Velvet’s debut only sold 10,000 copies, but everyone who bought it formed a band, a claim evident in the likes of Sonic Youth, Yo La Tengo, R.E.M., U2, and many, many more who bare the marks of this group’s influence.
The Feelies come by their love and appreciation of the Velvet Underground quite naturally. Formed in Haledon, New Jersey in ’76, just across the river from Manhattan, by guitarists and vocalists Glenn Mercer and Bill Million, The Feelies often included a couple of Velvet covers in their live sets over the years. The band recorded four albums before dissolving in 1991, then they reformed with same players at the time of the break: the rhythm section of bassist Brenda Sauter and drummer Stan Demeski who came on board in ’83, and additional percussionist and occasional keyboard player Dave Weckerman who joined up in ’84. In 1985, the band recorded The Good Earth with Million and Mercer co-producing with R.E.M.’s Peter Buck, then spent a lot of that year on tour opening for R.E.M. and Lou Reed. The band was invited to open for Reed again at NYC’s Orpheum Theatre in 1988, and it’s been reported that at one point, Reed told Millions that The Feelies were the only band that ever “got” the Velvet Underground.
One thing that The Feelies get in this 18-song set of live covers, is that first and foremost The Velvet Underground were a rock band, and Lou Reed never gave up on writing good pop songs with memorable melodies and hooks. This is often easily overlooked by those most taken with the darker aspects of his writing, like “Heroin” and some of their more avant-garde instrumental excursions, neither of which get much attention here. And in that sense, The Feelies and what can be heard of the crowd sound like they are having a great time, there’s a joyful almost effortless feel here, even as they come awfully close often to delivering these well-known classics with vitality while not drifting too far from the original recordings. Take “What Goes On,” which The Feelies actually covered on their Only Life in ’88; the song opens with opens at a snapping tempo, following the opening verses with a nice guitar solo that mirrors the song’s melody, but then for the final two minutes of the 4 min. track, the band just locks into the song’s great groove, and seems to be having so much fun playing it that they stay in it, refusing to stop until it stops being fun. It’s a triumph.
And speaking of triumphs, after that bright opening intro, is there a more classically beautiful chord change than “Sweet Jane”? Perhaps one of the best rock songs ever written, The Feelies aren’t too precious with it, and the familial sing along harmonies as the whole group joins in, well… it’s a pure, and moving moment. And of course, they bring the same spirited performance to another of Reed’s classic, “Rock & Roll,” and a host of his other works: “There She Goes Again,” “I’m Waiting For the Man,” and less well known tracks like “Head Held High” and “Run, Run, Run.” The album opens with a nicely handled version of the first Velvet Underground album’s opening track, “Sunday Morning,” and wisely ends the encores with the final song from the final album recorded with Reed, a lengthy jam on the somewhat bluesy, “Oh! Sweet Nothing,” but the rest avoids chronology to favor songs that sound good together. While they don’t force guitar solos into songs that function well without them, there’s plenty of fury when they let things loose, as on the proto-punk favorite “White Light/White Heat,” a song that laid down a map for David Bowie to follow for a while as well, which carries over into “I Heard Her Call My Name,” the closest they get to the Velvet’s over the top noise jams.
Another crowd favorite brought out for fun, “All Tomorrow’s Parties,” gets a fun ironic take when Sauter steps up to the vocal mic to deliver a nicely deadpan take on Nico’s vocals on the original, a trick she recreates “After Hours,” a song originally sung by the Velvet’s female drummer, Maureen Tucker. It wouldn’t feel right to direct people to anywhere other than the original source material if they were curious to hear the original sounds and creativity of Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground, but this collection does offer a fine introduction, and to old school fans it serves as a delightful live run through a great musical catalog made possible by some very capable and devoted band, who’re obviously first and foremost fans of this music.
“Sweet Jane” / “I’m Waiting For The Man” / “Rock & Roll”
ARTISTS WITH SIMILAR FIRE
Lou Reed / David Bowie / Sonic Youth
THE FEELIES REVIEW HISTORY
Here Before (2011)
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