Kevin Devine/The Features; September 9, 2011; Bottom Lounge
There are several truly amazing things about the Features. The first is their keyboard player Mark Bond. He caught my attention on our first meeting at the Rachel Ray party during SXSW, where the band I came to see turned out to be a disappointment, but the discovery of the Features more than made up for it. Like girl singers, keyboards can be awesome, but far too often they are just a cheesy distraction. Not in the case of Bond, he is essential to the band’s sound. Meanwhile, somehow I didn’t notice drummer Rollum Haas who just may be the most amazing thing. He makes the intricate rhythms look easy. Once you are tuned in to him, he just continues to impress. Of course, it takes Mark Pelham’s songs and voice to pull it all together. After that first show I called him Will Sheff without the attitude, but the Whigs’ Parker Gispert without the fancy dancing (and with smarter lyrics) might be more accurate.
I only caught half their set at Stubbs, where they were the first band of the day on the smaller inside stage while people crowded the outdoor stage in preparation for the generic Texan Bob Schneider, but it was enough to lead me to hunt down their most recent release which turned out to be the 2008’s Some Kind of Salvation. I listened to it non-stop until the release of Wilderness in July. Now I can’t seem to tear myself away from that record, and seeing them live only cemented my affection for it. Don’t tell Ha Ha Tonka, but the Features just might have my record of the year. Like Ha Ha Tonka, many of the comparisons I’ve read liken the Features to Kings of Leon, which again seems off base simply because I do not like Kings of Leon and I really like both these bands. In the case of the latter, it is more understandable since they have toured with KoL and Salvation and Wilderness were both released on their imprint.
There wasn’t a lot of talking during their too short opening set, but it didn’t really seem necessary. The set consisted mostly of songs I knew from the two records, though one of the standout tracks “Thursday” isn’t on any of their records. It seemed like much of the crowd was there for them, and there was a lot of very vocal approval after every song as well as a lot of singing along. “Golden Comb” and “Fats Domino” were both highlights, even “Big Mama Gonna Whip Us Good,” which is not my favorite track on the record, was terrific live. Though I will admit that the song itself is super catchy, it’s just the title/chorus that troubles me a little.
While a tour with Kings of Leon does make sense to me, opening for Kevin Devine does not. Next to the Features, Devine’s music was soulless and wimpy. I wouldn’t want to be him following them every night. The audience seemed to dwindle as his set went on, and eventually I joined them. I gave it a chance, but I’d already seen what I came for. I only wish I was seeing them again soon.