Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Southern tour with the Felice Brothers

When I walked out of the Spiegeltent at the Fulton Fish Market in Brooklyn this past fall, my head was buzzing. I had been listening to the Felice Brothers CD's for quite a while, been telling friends about them, and how great their albums were, but had never gotten around to see their live show. They were a sight, for sure. I told a friend that i was there with, i thought it was one of the best shows i had ever seen. I was immediately determined to see them again.

When i got home i booked three dates that were near a house i own in the North Carolina. These dates were November 10, 12 and 13th in Washington DC, in Winston Salem, NC and Asheville NC. The show in DC and Asheville were in support of Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band. The show at The Garage in Winston Salem was as the headline act. In DC, The Brothers got the crowd rolling with a short set, but the venue took a more serious tone when the somber Oberst took his band to the stage. While i found the Mystic Valley Band to be a huge improvement over his previous incarnations, it took till near the end of his set and "NYC Gone Gone" and "I don't Want to Die in a Hospital" to get the crowd back into it. The Brothers overall lacked the enthusiasm in these shows that i saw in New York, particularly the show at the Garage. As i sat outside that venue, about to see how they would do once again as main attraction, i talked with fans who had seen them
on their last trip into the area. Farley came out and greeted all the fans lined up with high fives down the line and thanked everyone for coming to the show. As we filtered in around 8:00pm i thought we be in for a good long ride and a whole lot of songs. The band came with a lot less energy than in New York, or even DC for that matter. They played around 90 minutes, with the highlights being "Mercy" with Simone Felice on vocal, Frankie's Gun, which got the crowd moving, and their new song near the end of the set; Penn Station. When they stopped playing, there was a few comments from the crowd. Simone Felice and James Felice stuck around after the show and talked with some of the fans, and were quite pleasant, but the show was a massive dissapointment compared to past experience.
I traveled off to Asheville to see the final show of the fall for me before i returned home to Massachusetts. Upon returning home, I went back to work and thought nothing of touring again, for about 2 weeks. i simply couldn't stop playing those records, particularly "Glory, Glory", a reworking of "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" and "The Devil is Real", a spot on remake of Bruce Springsteen's "My Fathers House". It is there where i found this music's spiritual center. Springsteen's alt-folk classic Nebraska ushered in the lo-fi movement some have maintained and the tales of killing sprees, isolation, unatoned sins, loss, regret, alcohol abuse, and shame are all abundently evident in the Felice Brothers albums. I decide to give the Felice Brothers another chance. I booked three more dates in the southern swing in the winter of 2009.
The Brothers opened up for Old Crow Medicine Show in Charleston on February 8th. Before the show, i sat in the lobby and talking with my friend Dan, a huge Old Crow fan, and James Felice came over and talked with us about the show and was quite cordial to Dan's son who is 12 years old and plays the guitar. Christmas milled about the lobby area as well. The show started and the band ripped into a newer song "Run Chicken Run" which is a real barnburner and got people moving and hooting. "Murder by Mistletoe", "The Big Surprise" and "St Stephen's End" wrapped melancholy around the always popular "Whiskey in my Whiskey". The crowd was there to see Old Crow Medicine Show, but the bluegrass loving fans really appreciated "Whiskey's" interplay with the audience, and as it finished the North Charleston Performing Arts Center was shaking with stomping feet and cheers. Penn Station finished the set, with new drummer Searcher (Jeremy Backofen) filling
Simone's role as crowd conductor quite well. It was odd that they did not play Frankie's Gun, which is the only song some of the crowd might have heard before and also the best song in their live arsenal.
I shifted to Gainesville Florida for the February 10th show. In a story that would make a Felice Brothers song, i checked into the Holiday Inn, on University Ave at 11am. I was in my room for no more than 30 seconds and three plain clothes police officers barged into my room and took me to the floor, They pointed their guns at me and were holding me because they thought i had just robbed a bank. They asked why i was in Gainesville, and i said " to see the Felice Brothers". "Who the fuck are they",they asked, then they really didn't believe me. Thirty minutes later i was free, after i was not positively identified by the homeless guy who was standing in front of the hotel when the bank robber, who did look like me, ran into the Holiday Inn, (they did catch the guy 2 days later, he was a pedophile. ) I met Searcher, about four hours before the show, and found he was as courteous as Simone usually is. The band parked their bus, err jalopy, out on
University Ave. A friend poked his head in to wish them luck and said he saw Ian smoking a cigarette down to a nub. Nothing but filter. He yelled for them to play "Goddamn You Jim". Around 7:00 pm we headed towards the venue, and stopped at Gator Beverage Company for a couple of refreshments. As i walked in the clerk was complaining (not to me, but as a general complaint to the customers) that the "fucking Felice Brothers were just here and they smelled like steak". Now i don't know what that means, or if he didn't mean "steak" and his accent made me miss the word "stink", i am not sure, but i know it wasn't meant as a compliment.
The show followed similar form as it did in Charleston, with our requested "Goddamn You Jim" nestled in the middle of the set. Highlights were "Memphis Flu", "Ballad of Lou the Welterweight" and their collaborations with Old Crow "Wagon Wheel", "Tell it Me" and David Bowie's "Ziggy Stardust". "Wagon Wheel" a Dylan tune from the Pat Garret and Billy the Kid project, is a great single, but its even better with the percussion and mayhem the Felice Brothers give it. "Ziggy" sent the crowd into a frenzy. Many female fans in the crowd appeared to be quite distraught that Simone was not in attendence. There was several calls for "Scarecrow" during the show. To be fair, while i am not sure Searcher is that experienced a drummer, his heavy hands are a real asset. His power is evident throughout the show and was more apparent in the smaller venue in Gainesville. The band again milled around after the show and greeted some fans.
In Tampa the next day, the band put on its best show since that night in Brooklyn. Before the show, Farley marched the streets of downtown Tampa with his big bass drum, Christmas, Searcher and Ian huddled behind a set of stairs eating take out food very curiously, like vampires at the break of dawn, they looked very odd (which is why we love them), while Old Crow walked the streets as confident professionals. James threw his hat down in front of the Tampa Theater and played for dollars and talked with fans. The show was blistering once again. They opened with "Hey Hey Revolver" and a scorching "Run Chicken Run" and finished with "Ziggy" and even sprinkled in "frankie's Gun" which had the place rocking. Christmas traded lead vocal on "Buried in Ice" with Ian, and did it in pure Van Morrison style, back to the audience!. His vocals were very good. Ian, sporting a Good Year, baseball cap, was once again at peak form, displaying the vocals that
make him a vocalist on the level with Levon Helm, Lowell George and Willie Nelson, he has a voice for the ages, and he has as many tales to tell as anyone. The grit in his voice explained hoplessness, the experiences and the choices facing the characters in songs like "Revolver" and "Penn Station" as much as the words ever could.
Farley was wild all night. He ran across the stage like a cross between Flava Flav and the retarded kid from middle school gym class.


1. Hey Hey Revolver
2. Run Chicken Run
3. Whiskey in my Whiskey
4. Murder by Mistletoe
5. Big Surprise
6. Loves me Tenderly
7. Buried in Ice
8. Ruby Mae
9. Penn Station

With OCMS:
Tennessee Pusher
like a Hurricane
Tulsa time?
Wagon Wheel
Tell It to Me
We are all in this Together
Frankies gun
Tonight's the Night