“This week the Features play to 50,000 people in London” is the kind of subhead Middle Tennessee music lovers love to see — especially if it’s emanating from thousands of miles away.
It accompanied a story published on Sunday, June 27 by the Independent, three days before The Features did indeed do that whole playing to 50,000 people thing, when they opened for their biggest fans — Kings of Leon — at London’s famed Hyde Park. Peep the video above to see for yourself. With the show reportedly the Kings’ biggest headlining milestone to date, in their home away from home, it was more than just another in a long list of instances in which the band supported The Features by tapping them as their support act — which they’ve done many a time since 2005.
To anyone in these parts, the Kings’ gestures of love towards the Features — like signing the band to their Serpents & Snakes imprint, thus giving them that elusive second shot at some kind of long overdue success and salvation — is old news. But now we’re about to see how it's gonna pan out for the hard-luck foursome.
This isn’t history repeating. Opening for a band on top of the world in 20,000-capacity sheds — which is how The Features will spend their next few weeks — is markedly different than opening for a band on the rise in 2,000-capacity theaters.
In the 48 hours following the Hyde Park gig, music writers from the likes of Billboard, The Guardian UK, Spinner and a host of British music blogs spilled ink on The Features. Last February — upon the U.K. release of their latest, Some Kind of Salvation — the band sold out a string of London shows on the heels of a press campaign revolving around their relationship with the Kings of Leon. Features drummer Rollum Haas told Scene of the shows:
We’d never had a sold out show there. … I’ve never really seen this kind of thing before, where we’ve had [the] full press push and everything. [Kings] are just in a position to do that over there now. I think it would be different if the label had been around for a really long time, but because we’re the first [band] on it, it’s giving us a lot of attention. But it’s great. We’ll kind of see where it goes from here.
For Middle Tennessee’s multitude of zealous Features fans, the international attention is an example of karmic justice. The rub is that every time the band’s name shows up in print, it’s no more than a sentence or two removed from a mention of their Kings in shining armor. At this point in time, that’s a blessing. Even if standing in a bigger band’s shadow finds them running the risk of blocking out too much of their own sun, any band that’s ever pounded the pavement for any gig and fought to win over every fan knows that toiling in obscurity is a curse far worse than finding themselves on the coattails of the world’s biggest rock band.
When asked if he thinks there will come a time when his band will have to break away from the close association with their champions, Haas says:
God, yes. … That’s been a pretty big concern for me, because you have to ride their coattails to a point and that’s exactly what we’re doing, but there’s definitely a point — I’m not sure when that is — I think we’ll know, I hope we’ll know when it happens (laughs), if it happens, [when] we’re gonna have to be pretty smart about it. … If it picks up, as soon as we can do our own tours I wanna start doing [them], even if it [means] playing to 150-capacity rooms. … I think it’s smarter to build up your own thing, rather than just try to be under someone’s wing the whole time [but] we need that push and we need that help and you have to get it from somewhere now. … We’re in a really good position.
It's a position any Nashville rocker would ditch his or her serving job in a heartbeat to find themselves in. While most local musicians probably aren't going to hold their breaths waiting for the Followills to pluck them from obscurity, they know that if the band's successes finds them directing the captivated eyes of the world to The Features, it's all the more likely people will take a look and wonder if there's more where that came from. There is.
While the short narrative in the press concerning The Features is going to be one of a band piggybacking on another's success for a little while to come, the longer story already emerging is of how they're Nashville's true flagship band. In a review of last week's Hyde Park show, a blogger from British news site Beehive City had this to say of The Features performance:
The band (also hailing from Tennessee) are apparently friends of the headline act, and their lead singer, Matt Pelham, has an almost identical look to [Caleb] Followill, complete with sandpaper voice. The Features have had a funny old career which started in 1994, five years before the Kings, begging the question, who’s following who in musical style … are they followers or is Followill?
The Kings of Leon don’t owe anything to Nashville. In an age of sudden-death artistic careers, the band has anomalously managed to achieve a slow and steady ascent to the top without Nashville’s help, and people here hate them for it. Nevertheless, it can’t be denied that their association with Music City — love/hate as it may be — has been dramatically instrumental in re-branding it a place outsiders associate with beards, leather jackets and barre chords, in addition to rhinestones and cowboy boots. A trickle-down effect on the local rock scene is inevitable.
Basically, whether they like it or not, the Kings of Leon are gonna be giving something back to Nashville, even if we don’t deserve it. Luckily, they have the sense — or maybe just the taste — to direct all the attention they can to the guys who do deserve it.
In the Independent piece referenced above — which is essentially the Coke to the Pepsi of a story NME ran in February, telling the tale of the Features/KOL bromance over rounds of drinks and shuffleboard at Losers — Kings singer Caleb Followill says of their signing The Features to Serpents & Snakes:
We have an opportunity to give people a chance … These guys have been around way longer than us, and they've made great songs, one after the other.
His press quotes are getting harder to make fun of.