Guitarist-vocalist Marc Anthony Smith’s clothes are an unmistakable signifier of Heavy Feathers’ music: paisley-patterned bellbottoms, Sgt. Pepper military jacket. The band lives up to the unspoken promise, too, producing the sort of music you like to think every bar band in late ’60s San Francisco had a handle on. They cover the Chambers Brothers, Cream, and Them. They play originals, too, but those have evolved from the same tradition, and all the songs seem to exist mainly as frames for extended improvised instrumentals.
“Whatever Woman” and “Sand and Light,” two Feathers compositions, arrive conjoined, with mutated extremities — warped blues rock melts into surf — but Heavy Feathers’ age is revealed in a fearless approach to noise that post-dates the Velvet Underground and probably could’ve only been expected from the hipper San Fran dive-bar house bands circa 1969.
“Gloria,” though, would’ve been a staple, and Heavy Feathers perform no Patti Smith-style evisceration of it, either, but a straight-ahead basement jam session that descends into loosely planned chaos. Smith’s guitar remains center-ring throughout, but occasionally bassist Brandon Herring (who played with Smith in the Blend) and drummer Jose Fidel Sotelo seem to lose sight of him. They’re a new band — this is their second venue gig — so that may just be a temporary issue.
Prefaced by some talk about “N’awlins,” HF song “Alligator Boogie” snarls appropriately, and Smith’s guitar tears through notes like he’s trying to crack a complex musical code. Their cover of “I Feel Free” gives Sotelo a chance to prove he’s got teeth, too, again suggesting the Feathers need a little more time to sync up. Muddy Waters’s immature macho strut “Mannish Boy,” in a medley with “Catfish Blues” (both probably not coincidentally covered by Jimi Hendrix) closes the set in proper guitar-as-metaphor-for-something-besides-ax-swinging fashion.
Heavy Feathers could be excused for making a name mimicking the early ’70s — they’re pretty good at it, for one thing, and there’s a scarcity-created demand for that sort of thing among those of us who didn’t get/have to live through it all the first time — but maybe, if we’re lucky, like the Beatles, the Stones, Hendrix, Zeppelin, and pretty much any of the other bands that mattered back then, they’ll take that solid blues-rock tradition and make it something personal and relevant to today. Then again, considering one of their old-sounding new songs is called “War Blues,” they may not need to stretch too hard to relate. — Jeremy Martin
Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.