Feelies haven't lost a thing

June 30, 2009


Few bands stay broken up anymore, even those that sucked the first time: Witness the return of Creed and Third Eye Blind.

But like the best of their peers -- Mission of Burma, Wire and the Buzzcocks -- New Jersey art-punks the Feelies avoided the taint of nostalgia at the Pritzker Pavilion on Monday, their first Chicago show in 18 years.

One reason the quintet's return is so welcome is that it left a lot of unfinished business. After four brilliant albums that paved the way for acolytes such as R.E.M., they disbanded in 1991 -- broke, frustrated but far from creatively spent.

More important, their sound -- a frenetic version of the Bo Diddley/Velvet Underground beat propelled by Bill Million's frantic rhythm guitar, adorned by Glenn Mercer's tubular leads -- was always timeless and remains as unique and energizing as it was circa their debut, "Crazy Rhythms" (1980).

The Feelies are set to perform that classic, all jagged edges and jangled nerves, at New York's All Tomorrow's Parties Festival in September. But befitting their return to the Midwest, some of the strongest material Monday came from the more organic follow-up, ''The Good Earth'' (1986), with songs such as ''On the Roof'' and ''The High Road'' evoking long drives through the plains as the rhythm section of bassist Brenda Sauter, drummer Stanley Demeski and percussionist Dave Weckerman rode those inimitable grooves.

Also noteworthy were two aggressive but tuneful new songs, ''Nobody Knows'' and ''Time Is Right,'' which showed that the Feelies of the new millennium are every bit the band they were two decades ago, and we're lucky to have them back.