For some reason the Features have been skipping Madison. This was the second time in the last nine months they have played the Crunchy Frog since stopping there the first time with J Roddy Walston & the Business in March of last year. When I confronted bass player Roger Dabbs at the merch stand about the perceived snub after the show he didn’t really have an answer, “Must be routing?” he theorized unconvincingly. More likely it’s because Green Bay seems to have taken quite a liking to the band. The enthusiastic crowd was better than what Madison had managed the last time I saw them here. And who can blame the Fox Valley fans? The Features are one of the most consistently entertaining live bands touring right now. So much so that I was willing to make the two and a half hour drive by myself, even after a hectic traveling week that included seeing eight shows in eight days in five cities. Add one more to the list.
Their new self-titled record is really pretty great (my best of 2013 list is going to be real trouble to sort out). The first single “This Disorder” is hypnotically catchy, while slow hummer “Every Beat of Your Heart” is the one that gets stuck in your head for days. “Fox on the Run” is another subtle winner. In fact, I love every song save for the Depeche Mode indebted “Ain’t No Wonder” which sounds uncharacteristic coming from a band that has always sounded ahead of its time. They probably wouldn’t have even played it if it hadn’t been for a trio of fans, really big fans, who had apparently asked for it ahead of time. “We’re going to try this song,” lead singer/guitarist Matt Pelham announced before adding, “we don’t usually play it, so it’s probably going to be a disaster.” It wasn’t of course, and while I’m still not sold on it, hearing it live did make me like it just a little bit more. They leaned heavily on the new record, but also played all the greats from previous release Wilderness like “How It Starts,” “Golden Comb” and “Big Mama Gonna Whip Us Good.” They went back even further for the addictive “Temporary Blues” and the haunting “Lions.” Early in the night Pelham commented that “I hope it sounds OK out there, because we can’t hear a thing up here.” The audience roared their approval, and he laughed it off and the show went on.
I though the web site listed three bands (but also no start time) so I was very happy when opener Traveling Suitcase announced near the end of their set that the Features would be up next. The Appleton band was a pleasant surprise. Their sassy female lead singer was also the drummer, which made them definitely more interesting. They also did a few songs with other arrangements, such as a jazzy number with just keyboards and a duet with just the guitar player and his acoustic.
I briefly considered the all-you-can-eat midnight-to-three Cranky Pat’s pizza buffet in Neenah on the way home, but knew that it would be a really late night already. Besides, I would have gotten there at the tail end of it. I pulled into my driveway at 4 am, happy to be home, but even happier that I had gone to the show.
Now, please Features, come to Madison OK?