Tuesday, June 9, 2009
The Duke and the King at Teenage Kicks
By Trip McClatchey
I believe The Duke And The King may have ruined concert going for me.
Where do I go next? How do you top the thrill of seeing a band bursting at the seams with creative sparks and a kinship with the audience that bordered on familial (you know, familial as it pertains to the parts of the family you still speak to)? How do you react as decades old friends and minutes old friends get swept up as one and are smiling, singing, clapping and stomping along with the unbridled enthusiasm that only the young-at-heart can muster? How do you react when you see your skeptical 12 year old break away form the Xbox, open the back door and peek his little head out to bop around and join in on the sing-along chorus of “Radio Song”? And it’s all happening in your BACK YARD? That’s right… last night The Duke and The King were playing at my house, my house.
The sun was setting, there was a faint, early summer pre-buggy breeze, the beer was flowing, there was the sweet ambient chimes of Mister Softee a street or two away, the leaves protected the yard like a mama bird and the worst seat in the house was 15 feet from the stage. Perfect.
Simone Felice was the drummer and co-founder of the shambolic backwoods caravan that billed itself as The Felice Brothers. The Brothers are still going strong (back In Philly on 8/7 at The Electric Factory), but Simone has set out to express his vivid stories in a soulful new venture with Robert “Chicken” Burke called The Duke and The King. You probably haven’t heard them yet - their stunning debut Nothing Gold Can Stay won’t be out until August. Their music hints at Bee Gees psychedelia, Sam Cooke’s gentle soulfulness and singer-songwriter perfection. Last night’s show heralded a major new voice – Simone Felice comes across like a sweet faced mashup of Robbie Robertson circa The Last Waltz (smoldering sexuality intact) with the storytelling , passion and inclusiveness of the skinny 1975 Bruce Springsteen. Who knew that a genuine, charismatic front man was lurking behind the drums when he was wreaking wild-eyed havoc for The Felice Brothers? I kinda did. Simone’s lead vocals were always gorgeous, heart-stopping moments at their shows… so why not.
But I was still unprepared for the warmth and genuine appreciation that seeped out of every person in attendance last night, whether audience member, band member or both (more on that later). Opening with a spare “Don’t Wake The Scarecrow”, from last year’s Felice Brothers disc, it’s immediately apparent that this will be a special, one-of-a-kind night. Simone’s close-eyed intensity amplifies the urgency of an unrequited love story, and “Chicken” Burke’s deft brush strokes shimmer like gently breaking waves. This is a stripped down show in every way imaginable - all the pomp of a big rock show has been removed, the three piece band plays quietly but firmly, with a good bit of singing coming off mike. “If You Ever Get Famous” is a no-looking back love letter to the band he left behind (“If you ever get famous, don’t forget about me/ I hope it’s everything you though it would be”), but that will live forever in his heart.
Next up is "Water Spider", a tribute to great inspirational leaders (Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Harriet Tubman) that included the sure to be oft-quoted line “Jesus walks on water, but so did Marvin Gaye”. I can’t believe I’ve gone this far without mentioning Nowell “I don’t need no stnkin’ mike” Haskins, whose booming, earthy vocals made the gospel burner “I Know I Been Changed” a set highlight and also featured a guest turn on electric guitar by my brother, Scott. It’s all about family with these guys. Haskins' counter-point response vocals and exhortations (mostly un-miked the rest of the night) added grit and unabated joy to a night that reeked with gospel type fervor.
The soft, strummy “The Morning I Get to Hell” provided a chance for audience participation (along with several other numbers) and also interspersed were Felice Brothers’ songs “The Devil is Real”, the emotionally super charged “Your Belly in My Arms”, the gorgeous “Mercy” and the perfect radio song, “Radio Song”. And how about The King’s (Robert Burke) solo turn on the quiet, plaintive, blink and you-missed it 75 seconds of “I’ve Been Bad”? The night came to a too brief end with an all hands on deck version of Neil Young’s “Helpless” that brought the show to a close hootenanny style.
Everything had fallen into place, the weather cooperated and the band couldn't have been more gracious. Simone is an amazing front man, captivating and incredibly earnest, and he, Nowell and Chicken treated each member of the audience like long lost family. In the weeks and months ahead, when people that were there last night start to see ecstatic, glowing reviews for Nothing Gold Can Stay (which right now is my front runner for album of the year), the epic quality of last night's show will resonate deeply.
Hey Simone – if you ever get famous, don’t forget about us.