An under-appreciated genre of music, soft rock seems to be getting some resurgence of fanfare as of late. Just last year the mockumentary series, “Documentary Now!,” created by and starring Fred Armisen and Bill Hader, told “the important story that never happened” about the band the Blue Jean Committee. The parody-style show followed the uprise and fall of the ‘70s soft-rock, superhit group that faced its demise after playing a “vegan rock festival.” Hader and Armisen composed and played all songs on the two-part “Gentle and Soft: The Story of the Blue Jean Committee,” which nailed the peaceful, easy feelings evoked after hearing one D chord delightfully strummed into G, a la America or Steely Dan.
In December a group of local musicians flocked together to create new birds of an old feather, so to speak, to resurrect the sounds of their youth that drew on the same nostalgic whimsy that “Documentary Now!” captured. “Feather” is, in fact, the band name—and the outfit pays homage to the greats of soft rock, from Poco to Dave Mason to the Alan Parsons Project. Guitarist Brian Weeks (also keyboards and vocals), Kenny Els (bass and backing vocals), Robert Rogan (acoustic guitar and backing vocals), Brandon Guthrie (vocals and acoustic guitar), and Nick Laudadio (drums) have a shared love for the quietude of music as heard in Gerry Rafferty’s “Right Down the Line” or Walter Egan’s “Magnet and Steel.”
“The genre offers us an opportunity to explore the standard-rock vocabulary we love so much,” Laudadio says, “with a more measured pace, a quieter volume and somewhat muted intensity—all things anathema to rock music.”
“The songs are difficult on several levels,” Weeks adds—“harmonies, chord changes and compositional nuances.”
The band—two of whom (Rogan and Weeks) played together in the late ‘90s/early aughts in the original act Summerset—breathed in these sounds in the heyday of AM radio and no seatbelts, according to Laudadio. “These songs were just in the air all of the time,” he continues. “The music you absorb as a kid really sticks close to you, and the further away you age from that early moment of musical contact, the more music can evoke a very specific period that can be quite fun to revisit. As learning to play/perform a song is a far more intense form of listening than passively on headphones or while commuting, we find ourselves revisiting these songs in an entirely engaging and revealing way.”
The audience does, too. Over the holidays when Feather debuted at Bourgie Nights, the packed room of listeners swayed and sang along. The band gently powered through a set of more than a dozen songs, including “Eye in the Sky,” “Lonely People,” and “Ride Like the Wind.”
“For [the February] show we will be featuring three or four new ones from the likes of Poco and Jim Croce,” Laudadio tells. “We try to cover the spectrum of the soft-rock canon.”
“I really enjoy playing Bread,” Weeks adds. “It’s jazzy soft rock with some dancey/upbeat moments and nutty lyrics. What’s not to love?”
Playing to the placidity of the genre isn’t necessarily an easy one. Turning up the amp to shred through rock ballads is antithetical to the wistful pulse of soft rock’s veins. Still, it emanates a no-less impacting sound.
“It’s complex on any number of levels,” Laudadio says. “Softness is a hard thing to do, rock-wise. Plus, it’s fair to say soft rock is a somewhat maligned genre, so there’s something to be said for a band trying to play legitimate music, especially given how cynical some music folks can be about less-than-authentic genres, like the soft ones, in spite of how accomplished musically these songs can be.”
Numerous hits Feather covers reached the top 10 Billboard back in the day, such as the Eagles “I Can’t Tell You Why” and Hall and Oates’ “Sarah Smiles.” Somehow, just as decades do, genres of music, film, fashion, and art in general resurface. Over the last few years, Wilmington has hosted concerts from some of the best soft-rock acts of the ‘70s.
“Some of us went to the Boz Scaggs show at [the Wilson Center] last year, and he blew the roof off the place,” Laudadio reports. “Also, Kansas, Air Supply, Ambrosia, Poco, Firefall, and Stephen Bishop have played Wilmington in the last year. It seems there’s a lot of space for the genre now. Also, the people who grew up with this music are getting old and nostalgic, so there’s that, too.”
Feather will perform their second gig just as Valentine’s Day remnants fade. It’s a nice reminder that sounds of love, at every age and from multiple eras, never die.
An Evening with Feather
Bourgie Nights • 127 Princess St.
Fri. Feb. 17, 7 p.m. – 11 p.m. • Tickets: $7
« SECRETARY DAY OF RESURRECTION: How Frederick Douglass could be of help now for struggle for justice CHAMBERFOLK TRIO: Harpeth Rising combine classical training with folk traditions at Brunswick concert this week »