The Features; November 16, 2011; The Frequency
The Features were this year’s SXSW discovery for me. I encountered them unexpectedly at the Rachel Ray party, a party I had mocked for years coincidentally, early in the day, and the combination of a new favorite band and an endless supply of tequila made for one of my best afternoons in Austin. I found out tonight that they were all hungover for that show, I never would have guessed. The band has a fierce energy, propelled by drummer Rollum Haas who makes the incredibly complicated and inventive rhythms he’s playing look easy. Keyboardist Mark Bond’s crazy carnival melodies may be the best use of keys in a band I’ve seen, and bassist Roger Dabbs does more than just keep the beat. They’re a remarkable ensemble, fronted by one of the most enigmatic singers I’ve seen. In addition to Mark Pelham’s distinctive voice, he also projects remarkably well, often stepping off mike for one of their many rounds of “la la la’s.” Don’t be fooled, these aren’t Christmas carols he’s singing, they are intense songs and they pack a punch.
In fact most of the set ignored the slower songs that I think are some of their best in favor of the band’s upbeat music. They blasted through the heavy hitters of this year’s terrific Wilderness, destined to be my record of the year, before playing the slow dance “Fats Domino” for the encore. The intense “Lions” (as in “couldn’t tear us apart”) and the propulsive “Temporary Blues” from previous release Some Kind of Salvation as well as the new “Golden Comb” were set highlights. As I remarked after the Chicago show, even the slightly troubling “Big Mama’s Gonna Whip Us Good” sounded terrific, and a little less creepy, live. My friend seemed surprised at the Wednesday night crowd, which half filled the tiny Frequency, for a band she’d never heard of. All the more surprising because she is a little obsessed with Tennessee, she thought she would have heard of a band from Nashville, especially one with six full length records and this much buzz. Between their electrifying live shows and a song on the new Twilight movie soundtrack, that buzz is only going to get bigger.