Photos By Emily Cohen, Words By Jesse Young
It’s hard to know where a three-guitar twangy heartland rock band fits in the American musical landscape of 2014. The recent vogue in indie folk has happily provided enough cultural space for bands like The Wild Feathers to get their deserved day in the sunlight. They have beards and play acoustic guitars – same deal, right? They’re also an avenue for assholes (like myself) to quietly indulge the fact that we totally love country music, but fear the unpleasant red state associations that come with heartily embracing commercial country.
But then again, who really cares? I spent the first half of The Wild Feathers’ set worried about the white cultural privilege inherent in embracing throwback guitar rock, and then I spent the second half of the show actually enjoying myself.
To say this band is retro mostly misses the point, because I assume that these sounds are far less retro in the twin environs of Austin and Nashville, from whence The Wild Feathers spring (though I have no idea). Comparisons to Tom Petty get thrown around a lot when people write about this band, but they strike me as much more at home in the space between the Eagles and The Allman Brothers – in that druggy, mellow early-70s period where mildly-stoned boogie rock and plaintive balladry happily coexisted.
The basic idea at hand is four lead singers all sharing vocal duties. The slight flatness of the band on record is totally erased when you hear all four voices blend richly on stage. The band’s specialty isn’t delicate harmonies so much as a full-throated shout – four singers pushing their voices much more forcefully than their instruments.
The band’s three lead vocalists — Joel King, Ricky Young, and Taylor Burns – are also (thankfully) not sound-alikes. Young is clear and blunt, Burns is twangy and rich, and King packs a mean, punky growl and a really compelling Rick Danko impression. As they trade off from song to song, it makes for great fun watching them weave around each other, even if some aren’t exactly stellar showmen. My notes from the show are full of rapid changes of heart as to which singer I thought was the best.
The setlist covered pretty much all of the band’s debut album, plus a totally-fantastic cover of Zeppelin’s “Hey Hey What Can I Do” and a rather perfunctory (but well-received) take on The Band’s “The Weight.” There was a new song too – which I can only presume was called “Happy” – that showcased Taylor Burns’ warmly-accented vocals (his best moments recall the Black Crowes’ Chris Robinson).
“I’m Alive” is a fantastic piece of propulsive power pop, bringing to mind Cheap Trick in their heyday or (yes) Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. And, as if to further drive home the fact that these guys are Led Zeppelin fans, Burns played an electric 12-string guitar (think “Stairway to Heaven”) for much of the set. I was charmed.
This was also a slightly older crowd – late-20s median? – as evidenced by the relative paucity of annoying cell phones being held aloft during much of the show. It was also kind of a shitty crowd, or at least one who felt the need to largely flee show the show once the lock hit 11 (I know, it’s late, and we all have very important jobs).
While the band is maybe still too (admirably) anchored in their influences to be a breakout pop act, I expect big, awesome things from them.