In indie-rock America, The South is a bit all-or-nothing: while metropolises like New York, Chicago, and L.A. are the hubs, and big college towns from Boston to Austin punch above their weight, the rest of the nation is largely seen as a something of flyover (or, rather, ‘drive-through’) country (minus a few northern hotspots like the Pacific Northwest & Canada), where a few acts might break out, but they are the exceptions, not the rule. The South could be seen much the same way, except the exceptions are many, from R.E.M. (QRO album review) to Annuals (QRO spotlight on). Some of that is college-assisted, for sure, but when looking for new music outside the usual suspects, the Confederacy gets a shorter shrift than it deserves. A prime example of that is Tennessee’s The Features, who played a place far smaller than they deserved in New York on Thursday, May 14th.
It has been a bit all-or-nothing for The Features, who’ve gone from a major label for their debut full-length, 2004’s Exhibit A, to finally having to self-release the follow-up Some Kind of Salvation this June (QRO review), after having put it out digitally & on vinyl last year. They’re even huge in England… And the band is most closely associated with maybe the biggest southern indie-rock breakout of recent years, The Kings of Leon (QRO album review), who’ve taken them on many a-tour, including a few years ago to New York’s own, massive Roseland Ballroom (QRO photos of Kings of Leon at Roseland). But headlining themselves, The Features played a venue much smaller than Midtown’s Roseland (QRO venue review), Bowery’s closet-sized backroom space at Piano’s (QRO venue review).
The Features playing "Lions" live at Piano's in New York, NY on May 14th, 2009:
Not that they let it show. The crowd was thick (Piano’s even had someone manning the backroom’s bar, so you didn’t have to leave the rock to get a drink), full of folks who knew The Features and were psyched to see them play (one fan even left a note inviting the band to a ‘speakeasy’… – QRO photo). Exhibit A pieces like southern-fried alt-rocking single “The Way It’s Meant To Be” or the more rockabilly “Me & The Skirts” were natural favorites (the latter inspiring a sing-a-long from the audience), but it was Salvation that provided the backbone of the set. Of course, since Salvation has been out there on turntables and the interweb for a year now, many, if not most, of the fans in the crowd knew it well, which only upped already-great songs, like the catchy, twang-y “Drawing Board”, or the alt-country/rock explosions of “Foundation’s Cracked” (along with intro “Whatever Gets You By” – actually labeled ‘Intro’ on the set list – QRO photo – the three pieces went one-two-three, just like how Salvation kicks off).
After the mid-set fun indie-country “Lions” (where singer/guitarist Matt Pelham’s vocals do quite resemble Kings of Leon’s Caleb Followill), The Features did slide a bit, with some faster-than-usual new material, “Rambo” and “Mosis”, and occasionally throwing a change-up like Salvation’s slow, sway “Gates of Hell”. But there was still the great indie-blues/rock of “The Temporary Blues”, though the band unfortunately left the press-to-big Salvation follower, “Wooden Heart”, off the set list. With a strong new(-ish) album, and an even stronger live show, here’s hoping The Features get more notice, throughout all of indie-rock America.