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Saturday, 09 June 2012 14:34

Concert review: The Features (with the Sun and the Sea) steamroll the Firebird, Friday, June 8

Concert review: The Features (with the Sun and the Sea) steamroll the Firebird, Friday, June 8
Written by Robin Wheeler

After years of serving as a workhorse opening act, Nashville's the Features finally made a headlining appearance in St. Louis to a small but enthusiastic crowd at the Firebird in a concise steamroller of a set.

Keyboard-heavy openers the Sun and the Sea brought earnest, over-reaching pop epics peppered with Tears for Fears and Talking Heads covers.

Calling the Features no-nonsense barely hints at the band's penchant for sneaking up on an audience, unleashing their full power -- and not pausing until all energy's spent. They're an F5 tornado, erupting from tune-up to the thunder drums of "Kids" with no intro, no warning.

While the entire band plays with a tightness that comes from nearly two decades of playing together, drummer Rollum Haas shines in his relentlessness. Haas has no use for subtlety. Thankfully. He grounds the band with a blend of loud, primal beats that stop just short of overpowering the rest of the band. He teeters on this tipping point for the whole show, building to a collapse that never comes.

The setlist veered through the band's entire discography, with newer songs like "The Drawing Board" beside "That's the Way It's Meant to Be" from their debut album, all delivered with equal ferocity. It's a shame it's taken so many years for them to book headlining shows, because they can certainly carry them. Perhaps all the years of being relegated to 30-minute opening sets is why they plow through so hard and fast, not speaking to the audience, with nary a pause between songs, building the kind of energy a headlining act dreams of getting from an opener.

On "Foundation's Cracked" they played with staccato, clipped beats and singer Matt Pelham's whispered vocals, balancing the quiet with sudden vocal and guitar roars that startle.

The small audience didn't deter the band; the crowd gave back the energy the band expanded, particularly during "The Temporary Blues" and its infectious howl-along chorus which continued through "Me and the Skirts," "Another One," "How it Starts" and "Love Is." The latter given a sustained and expanded ending leading into "Content" and "Big Mama's Gonna Whip Us Good" -- the only song Pelham introduced during the entire show. They ended with another staccato break that moved into a loud, jammy finale before a delicate take on "The Idea of Growing Old" with just Pelham and his guitar finishing the song in a relative quietness to soften the night's onslaught.

The loud-quiet play hit its apex with "Exorcising Demons." Dead silence interspersed with bits of a cappella vocal, drum slams, guitar storms, and dead silence all mixed together in a complex melody. End result: feeling like the band's ripped something from inside the listener's chest. It was only appropriate to follow with the haunted calm of "The Gates of Hell." With the percussion simplified, Pelham guides with gentle whistles, soft vocals and melodic guitar that belies the song's dark undertone. That arrives later, when Haas takes over for a psych drum jam.

And when they were finished, they simply walked away. With the lack of banter, an encore didn't feel like a given. But they did come back with "Golden Comb," drum-driven and punctuated by Pelham's screams, with a layer of Mark Bond's shimmering under the surface of noise.

Show closer "Thursday" started with Pelham's plaintive confession of trying to change his walk, his talk to bring a smile. In reality, his band would never make such compromises. They remain who they are -- a full-force rock act with unabashed sing-along choruses exploding into tightly-controlled noise. They don't need to talk; everything the Features have to say is clearly stated through their fevered performance.

The Features aren't here to chat and endear. They're here to steamroll their fans with well-played, all-encompassing rock. When they finish, leaving people alternating between wondering what the hell just happened and screaming, "Fuck, yeah!," they've done their job. In this case, more than adequately.

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