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Weekly Alibi My Crush on The Nields

The Nields; Wednesday, May 28; Santa Fe Music Hall

By Julie Birnbaum

July 14, 1997:  There's a band going around pasting up stickers that ask, "What's a Nields?" It's a cutesy publicity stunt, but I wonder if there's any truth in it for the group. After all, it looks like the unique folk-influenced rock band are on the cusp of becoming popular with a larger public, and at their recent Santa Fe show, I got the feeling that it was time for The Nields to take a minute from their high-speed tour and ask themselves that question.

Since being discovered at the 1996 South by Southwest festival by a big-name label, The Massachusetts-based Nields have promoted themselves nonstop, playing over 200 shows last year. Their dedication has mixed results; the band is tight, musically, but creativity and spontaneity suffer. Maybe I'm just bitter, like so many fans tend to be when their beloved band goes mainstream. When your crush gets a zit, you notice right away. I still think The Nields' blend of modern rock, beautiful harmonies and engaging songwriting create a wonderful, unusual folky pop sound which I love, but I noticed the grind of promotion in their local appearance like you notice a big zit.

About four years ago, my roommate lured me to a cafe in Burlington, Vt., to see a band she liked. By the end of the night, I had developed a crush on The Nields. At that time it was just the three original members, sisters Katryna and Nerissa Nields, and Nerissa's husband David, who took her name when they married. They were a quirky folk trio whose songs that night ranged from a hilarious Amy Fisher operatic ballad to the tightly-wound harmonies and tongue-in-cheek lyrics that became their trademark. On stage, they improvised, laughed at each other and delivered their songs with soul and a sense of humor that was magnetic. I was hooked, and signed up to receive their goofy, cartoon-covered newsletter which kept me updated on their tour schedule.

That's why I felt grandma-proud when I saw them last winter at a packed venue in Boston, and they announced that they had been picked up by a major recording label, Guardian, a subsidiary of EMI. The label planned to re-release Gotta Get Over Greta, their latest CD, with bonus tracks and more publicity. The band had grown and changed their sound, adding a drummer and a bassist, but The Nields I fell for were intact and had matured--they sounded more polished and had developed a distinctive voice, both writing and music-wise.

I bought Gotta Get Over Greta (the first version, on the indie label Razor & Tie), and found it much more rock-influenced than their past recordings, but an excellent album in its own right. Greta is all about the compromises involved in becoming an adult and the nostalgia of looking back at childhood. The songs create short stories with ironically portrayed characters and are full of irresistibly honest details. The music is carried by the two vocalists with a strong background of rock groove.

That's why I was disappointed in the show at the Santa Fe Music Hall--I had big expectations, and after such endless touring and promoting, the band seemed a little flat, with less expression and energy than I'd seen before. The band talked a lot about their new album and went through it a little mechanically. The best songs were either new or old, ones they hadn't overdone. At those moments, I felt the expression which Katryna's incredible voice gives to her sister and David's lyrics come back, and the fun, spontaneous vibe returns to the band.

Greta is a great album that you'll find yourself singing for weeks, and The Nields a unique genre of sound. The new CD, with three stellar bonus tracks including a version of the Beatles' "Lovely Rita," was released last month, and I recommend checking it out. It deserves to be a success. It's just that ... you can't help being a little sour when your crush decides its old core of fans aren't enough.

--Julie Birnbaum







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