by Benn Ray
I'm at that point in my life where, sadly, age sometimes plays a part in my going to see live music.
I don't mean that I miss shows and I use the excuse that it's because I'm too old because I don't have the energy or can't hack getting up for work the next day - I'm still fine in that area, thankfully.
The age problem I have is that I've become all too aware that I am now, sometimes, "The Old Dude."
You know the guy I'm talking about. Imagine you're young (if you're not) and having fun at a show and what the fuck is this geezer doing at your show? What's that about?
Is this music for old people?
Is he just weirdly cool? If he's cool, how come he's all alone?
Is he some kind of generational vampire?
Does he think he's cool?
I now realize my past discomfort with the Old Weird Guy at the Show is that it was an uncomfortable vision of my future self.
Also, there are occasionally shows I'll skip because I expect the crowd will remind me too much of a '90s Baltimore Alterna-rock Scene Reunion. I skip those for the same reason I skip my high school reunions.
Yet, lately, I've felt like there have been a number of bands coming through that I've always liked and not seen, and, well, none of us are getting any younger, so maybe I better see them now, because who knows?
That's why I hit the Jonathan Richman show at the Golden West (well, that and also because it's location was so intimate and convenient).
I had intended to see Mission of Burma at the Ottobar but my plans fell apart.
And that's why I was at the Ottobar on Saturday, March 23 to see The Feelies play what will go down as a legendary show.
Yeah, I knew it was gonna be Old Timers night at the rock club, we all knew it. And I am not exempting myself from that (but it is also nice seeing a show when you're not the oldest person in the room). It started off awkwardly when my friend who had picked up tickets tried to get in the door using a receipt from a local toy store for an item she'd bought her son earlier in the day.
We all had a laugh about that. Well, not the bouncers. Bouncers never laugh.
Once inside the Ottobar it was reunion time - I ran into a number of friends I hadn't seen in ages. And of course, when we saw each other, we all had to acknowledge the average age of the crowd (as well as our own age): "Old timers night tonight, eh?"
But the weird thing was there were a number of kids there too. Because the event was all ages, it was a family affair for some. "Oh those poor kids are going to be so bored," I thought looking at the middle/high schoolers who were brought there by their parents.
I'd already set my expectations low. Best case scenario? I was hoping to be mildly entertained.
They were tight. Not only were they tight, but precise and with each song they got better. And they also got faster.
After the first song, I looked around, and the kids looked bored and the adults looked thrilled. Three songs later, everyone's head was nodding along with the Feelies' rhythm - including the kids'. By 5 songs in, everyone, even the kids, were dancing. Even me.
The Feelies were mixing old songs, new songs, and covers. Their set list was unpredictable and awesome.
One of the things I like most about them is that they don't really care about the audience. They are there to play, period. So there's very little onstage banter. They are far more interested in making sure their instruments are tuned than what some knucklehead in the audience is hollering out at them.
In fact, the only real interaction between the band and the audience would come when bassist Brenda Sauter would announce the song they just finished - which she would always do while the audience was still applauding so as to almost intentionally obscure the information from those who might have needed it.
Then a few songs from the end of what would have been most shows, Brenda announced they'd play a few more and take a break for a few minutes and come back for another set.
And they did.
Set one was great. It was tight. The song selection was interesting. The momentum was building. I could have left at set one with expectations exceeded.
But when the band came back for the second set, they played balls out. Now, when I say The Feelies don't care about the audience, that doesn't mean they're not laying it all out on the stage. They just aren't there to chat or goof or make jokes (or even acknowledge you). They are there to play with everything they have. And you can be into it or not, although I can't imagine anyone not being into it.
In set two each song got faster than the last. The pace was frantic and the two guitarists would jerk about the stage.
But then came the encores - by my count 5. And not just paltry one song encores either but 3 song encores. So essentially, what the audience got was three sets by a band that was founded in 1976. The Feelies took the stage a few minutes after 9 and played until around 12:30. When you factor in the break times, that's a three hour show - and that is a Guided by Voices-style herculean effort.
And the songs just spilled out of them, their tunes blending with covers by The Velvet Underground, R.E.M., Television, The Stooges, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, and on and on.
I ran into a local show promoter friend on my way out of the bathroom, and he summed it up thusly, "Holy shit, this is the most punk rock thing I've seen in a long time. They just played The Stooges 3 times faster than the Stooges ever did, and they've done three encores!" At this point there were still 2 more encores to come.
I'm no Feelies expert. I own a few of their records, Crazy Rhythms, Only Life and last year's surprisingly good Here Before. But nothing prepared me for the magnificence of seeing them live.
Nothing had prepared me for what The Feelies poured into the Ottobar on Saturday night. But if any of their other shows on this tour are half as good, any weird ageist hangups will be almost immediately eradicated - until the lights come up and then you see an array of aging faces, stunned and exhausted by being witness to a show we all know would have been unreasonable to expect and we were thrilled to be there for.