Feral: Songs Are All We're Left With
Feral: (L-R) Ed Cagnacci, Cindy Emch, Norman Carley
Feral, Thee Parkside, 10/5/2014
October 28, 2014 at 5:28pm
"Songs are all we're left with, songs are all we have.
Songs keep me believing in something we never had." - Feral
In an area where the tech industry has entrenched itself in an upscale, white collar, six-figure existence, Feral is a band for the rest of us: The retail workers scrabbling to get by on a bare-bones salary. The unemployed admin assistant nursing a single black coffee for hours while poring through the help-wanted section. The people who can't afford to take Uber to clubs and don't have jobs that offer corporate-sponsored shuttles. The people who have made hard choices and have never had easy lives. And yes, for the tech workers who go to work each day feeling like imposters who don't fit in.
I encountered the Oakland-based Feral at a free show at Thee Parkside, a wonderful blue-collar bar near Potrero and 16th Street in San Francisco which caters to punk, metal and country music. The stage there is small and black, although it used to be red at some point – flecks of the color show through every well-earned scuff mark. More than half of the black leather stools have split along one or more seams. The crowd is full of blue jeans, rolled-up shirt sleeves, faded t-shirts and well-loved retro dresses in polka dots and checks. Most of the audience and almost all of the staff sport tattoos; the bartender is a mountain of a man with faded tats climbing up both arms to meet across his chest, under falls of shaggy red hair that cascades down from his head in tangles and dreads like he just stepped off a motorcycle. They aren't hipsters, or rockabillies, or any other subculture. They're just everyday folks here for a beer and a song.
Thee Parkside. My kind of place.After working nine-to-five daily downtown, in the land of trendy suits, expensive briefcases, perfectly coiffed hair and exquisitely manicured fingernails, it is the most real place I've been in all week. It feels a lot like home, and that feeling only intensifies when Feral steps up to the mic.
Feral fits this bar like a well-worn leather glove broken in with love. When they take the stage, they spin tales of failed romances, cheating spouses, dubiously and potentially murderous desserts and whiskey-soaked love – songs of regret by people who don't really regret anything except maybe getting caught.
Their music, a blend of Americana folk with a side of bluesy roots, is remarkably easy to dance to, but it's just as enjoyable to sit back and let their lyrics roll over you. Some lines are clever, like the bitter break-up song Impala: "You got that seven-year itch in six months' time." Others are funny: "Mama don't like Nugent, but who does these days?" from the song Mama's Blues, featuring a very long list of all the music Mama hates, and a correspondingly short list of the bands Mama likes. And still other lyrics are all of the above, and poignant to boot; Kathy's Pink Surprise begins with the blunt observation, "Like a sheep dog learns to hate sheep / I expect you to kill me in my sleep." But the most effective songs, like Loose Ends, hurt to listen to and linger afterwards like a wound you hold close to your chest as proof you survived:
"I wanna love you like a fire loves a flame, like I don't even know your name /
I wanna love you 'til I can't even stand to breathe the air we breathe /
I'd do better just to lay off the sauce – I fought it and I bought it but who's the boss /
You always knew just how to ruin me"
Ultimately, Feral is music to drink a beer to with friends, and by the time they leave the stage, the band feels like the kind of friends you have known all your life, for better and for worse.
If songs are we're left with, we are lucky to have Feral to keep us company.
Thee Parkside: https://www.facebook.com/parksidepothill
Photos of band and bar sign (c) Katrina James, https://www.facebook.com/tubemouse
External photo of Thee Parkside (c) Leslie Hampton, https://www.facebook.com/sidewithus
Feral: Songs of regret by people who don't really regret anything except maybe getting caught.