The Features have had a chequered history over their 15-plus years together. The Tennessee indie rockers recorded two albums in the late ’90s which were never released, so they didn’t really get going until about 10 years ago. Then came another lull before being taken up by Kings Of Leon as the first act to be signed to their record label Serpents & Snakes. But despite threatening to break through a couple of times it’s not really happened for them.
The Features’ latest album, Wilderness, is their strongest so far – going back to basics, they’ve produced a raunchy, garagey record full of dirty guitar riffs and thundering bass lines, with rousing choruses. Making an all too rare appearance in this country at Bush Hall, as one of four British gigs on their European and US tour, they put on a fully committed if unexceptional show for a small but enthusiastic group of fans. The ornate surroundings of this intimate venue – with its chandeliers, framed mirrors and decorative plasterwork – vibrated with no-frills Southern American-style rock for a full-on set of almost one-and-a-half hours.
Not surprisingly, the emphasis was overwhelmingly on material from Wilderness, with all 11 tracks played apart from Fats Domino (which has a very different musical style). Standouts included a pulsating performance of Content, the inflammatory Kids, a raucous account of Big Mama Gonna Whip Us Good, the funky How It Starts and the psychedelic distortions of Golden Comb.
Previous album Some Kind Of Salvation was well represented with the likes of the Kurt Weill cabaret-influenced Whatever Gets You By, the disturbingly off-kilter Foundation’s Cracked and maybe the band’s best-known song Lions, with its catchy, animal-like chanting chorus. The tenderly touching love song The Idea Of Growing Old from debut album Exhibit A also went down well.
This was a no-nonsense, workman-like performance, with more perspiration than inspiration but what it lacked in charisma was offset by plenty of energy. Apart from announcing the occasional song title, lead singer/guitarist Matt Pelham did not bother much with chatting to the audience, preferring to get on with the action. He was backed by solid bassist Roger Dabbs, keyboardist Mark Bond (who could have made more of an impact) and drummer Rollum Haasmer, whose relentless pummelling was impressive as a test of physical fitness but was in danger of overpowering the rest of the band.
The Features are underrated; they have some excellent songs and perform them with confidence but their music doesn’t have a sufficiently strong identity to make them stand out from the crowd. It may be that the well-intentioned patronage of Kings Of Leon has hindered rather than helped them in the long term, as they’ve never quite managed to emerge from their stadium-sized shadow, which is a shame as they have a lot to offer.