Neil Feather Returns to Denver With His World-Famous Homemade Instruments

Neil Feather will be returning to perform his first Denver show in 25 years tonight, October 6, at the Mercury Cafe. Opening will be local avant-garde improv act Animal / object. This time around, Feather will be performing with Roso Langabeer as Two To Tutu Too. Feather became a fixture of the early avant-garde music scene in Denver between 1980 and 1985, having moved to Colorado after completing graduate school in Montana. Feather started making his own instruments in 1970. His focus shifted toward visual art when he went to college, but in graduate school, he started making sculptures that could produce sound. But it wasn't until Feather moved to Denver that he really got going with his life's work.

“Denver is where I hooked up with other musicians and learned how to use amplifiers and be on stage and how to be a musician in a functional way, beyond just making the sounds,” says Feather.

Whether it was pure coincidence or good fortune, Feather came into Denver at a time the experimental-music scene was picking up steam, with the likes of legendary (and still active) experimental prog band Thinking Plague as well as Bruce Odland's Big Band, No Tourist Attraction and Separate Lives. Gordon Pryor, who now often performs with Animal / object, was a member of No Tourist Attraction, and Bruce Odland's Big Band included such notable locals as Ron Miles and Marc McCoin. But Feather also had connections with the underground rock world of the time, and he even played saxophone with Jeri Rossi for the song “I Left My Heart but I Don't Know Where,” produced by fellow yesteryear Denver avant-garde legend Bob Drake.

Perhaps Feather's most well-known project of the time was Big If, which had three distinct incarnations. It was a bit of an improvisational experimental band that, Feather says, might be comparable to a band like Can. It combined rock, jazz, avant-garde and psychedelia. The group released a ninety-minute cassette, which Duane Davis of Wax Trax pressed to vinyl. 

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In 1985, Feather moved to Baltimore, where he could affordably get a building; he was also attracted to the world depicted in early John Waters films. His neighbor was the late Jean Hill, who played Grizelda Brown in the 1977 John Waters film Desperate Living. She also had roles in Waters classics Polyester and Bad Taste.

“It was exactly like a John Waters film there,” says Feather. “That kind of quirkiness and affordability and that sort of industrial city, steel town kind of feel. In Baltimore, everyone has a place to play. It's an incredibly collaborative scene, and no one makes money playing music in Baltimore — or there's no money in it. But it's a really fertile scene. And they kind of push the weird, too. Compared to other cities, I'd say generally there's more weirdness than preciousness in the music scene.”

Since moving to Baltimore, Feather has expanded upon his brilliant crafting of unique instruments and composing with those unconventional instruments, and has built an international reputation as one of the most daring and original musicians in the world today. At the Mercury show, you'll see five of these instruments in action, including at least one of Feather's “Former Guitars.” Animal / object uses largely homemade or at least treated instruments, so if you dare to show up, you're in for an evening of truly unique music.

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