The Features at the Black Cat

Indie pop band from Sparta, Tennessee, the Features, perform at the Black Cat in DC. Photo: The Features

WASHINGTON, June 17, 2013 — An air of myth and mystery surrounds the Features. The band comes from Sparta, Tennessee, a sparsely populated town of around 5,000 people. This is not something the band promotes, but it has been touted to some extent on the live music circuit, which has influenced how they are viewed in performance. Some of this background sense could be picked up on when the Features recently performed at the Black Cat.

A band’s environment sometimes has a weird way of shaping how they perform. For example, there could be two bands from the exact same town that have two different perspectives on music, even though they remain products of the same environment. The Features, for their part, take a non-traditional approach to being influenced by growing up in a small town.

When the Features formed in 1994, it was before music file sharing and the ability of bands to readily post music for the world to hear both became commonplace. Sparta is relatively close to the big time music hub of Nashville, but the Features do not draw distinct parallel to anything that is prominently connected to that music scene. Instead, they bring a lot of their influences from classic rock and specifically the kind of music someone would hear on rock stations that were dominated by rock music from the ‘70s.

The Features have a lot of the classic hallmarks of the rock bands from the ‘70s. They dabble ever so slightly in neo-psychedelic melodies, although their sound is never trippy enough to really be considered on par with that genre. Instead, they play pretty straightforward timeless rock, which is what happens when a band generally takes its cues from the era of ‘70s rock.

A major aspect to sounding like a ‘70s rock band is the band’s use of the keyboard as well as that keyboard’s specific tonal approach. The Features use Matt Bond on keyboards quite a bit and that sound is prominent throughout their entire set. The preferred tone here feels like a lighter variation of an organ rather than emulating one or more instruments. It helps give the band a fairly large sound.

Again, the Features might come from the very definition of a small town, but that does not necessarily make their sound unfold that way. Their output could easily fit in a bigger venue than backstage at the Black Cat, but since the band is so rooted in rock and roll aesthetics, they could fit pretty well in any venue with quality acoustics.

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Front man Matt Pelham is the primary reason for this. He is a quintessential front man driving their sound with guitar work and vocals, both of which have a classic appeal. He emotes with force, and is unique to the point where there is no quirky hitch to his singing. Like the rest of the band he is just a straightforward kind of performer.

That term, straightforward, is what describes this band best. It is what makes them about as pure a rock and roll band as anyone will find out there today. There were no clever bells and whistles to the way the Features played at the Black Cat. This is a band that has honed their craft extensively to the point where they have eliminated all the excess in their sound. The Features are just pure and tight rock and roll.

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Stephen Bradley

Stephen Bradley is an avid music listener and an occasional writer.  He grew up in the Washington DC area and has been embedded in the local music scene for years.  Currently he lives in Vienna, VA.   He enjoys bands that have been broken up for at least a decade.

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