Friday, June 12, 2009

The Felice Brothers SF Weekly

The Felice Brothers
June 10, 2009
The Independent
Better Than: Chocolate. Seriously.
By Anna McCarthy

Drumsticks flew, accordion players sank to their knees, and fiddlers rapped. You know that you're going to get a good performance when, before the show even starts, every instrument on stage already looks like it has been through a blizzard: guitars chipped, wood piano scratched and worn, crash symbols gnawed around the edges. These are the insignias of musicians who like to play. The Felice Brothers introduced what would become a rabble-rousing, head bobbing, foot stomping, hour and a half long set -- one that would climax at the end with one of the Brothers taking a flying leap into the drum set -- with an understatement: "We're going to play some weird music for y'all."

If the upstate New York-based band were forced into a genre, it would have to be something like "Dark Americana." Their sound combines the storytelling and scallywag of the Decemberists with the twang of the Avett Brothers or Old Crow Medicine Show and the energy of a turbojet.

Their set featured a number of new songs from their recently released album, Yonder is the Clock. It also covered the tried and true, as the band dipped and swelled from the upbeat and playful ("Run Chicken Run") to the slow and sorrowful ("St. Stephen's End"). As if the country/rock/jam band mix wasn't eclectic enough, the Brothers also managed to throw some hip-hop into the mix with an all-out KRS-One tribute at the end.

It may have been their second night at the Independent, but The Felice Brothers played like it was their last on earth.

Even at the show's crescendos, the audience was a sea of calm compared to the rowdy, washboard wielding, accordion playing, drum beating crew of lost boys who, when given a bunch of instruments and a stage, know how to make the most of it. Their lurching and jumping and slapping and flailing was contagious yet unrivaled by any audience member for the entire hour and a half set they played. (Overheard from one fan" "I've never seen someone wail on an accordion that hard!")

But the best part about the Felice Brothers is that, in addition to showing the audience that they can have a good time on stage, they also quickly prove that they know how to make good music. The band played like family (which they are--all but the bass player, Christmas, are related, but he's good as family far as the music is concerned). And despite the fact that their lanky lead singer had a few bouts of forgetting the lyrics, the music they played last night was anything but sloppy. They often switched up instruments, one brother digging into the washboard, wielding it like a guitar one minute, then grabbing the fiddle and jumping onto the bass drum another.

The Felice Brothers like jumping on drums.
By the end of the set (nearly midnight), they had invited the band's opener - a soft spoken, singer-songwriter named Willy Mason, on stage. He'd started the evening with a short set of low-key acoustic guitar songs accompanied by poetic lyrics that, as one of the Brothers described, "make me want to call my mom and tell her I love her." At the end of the night, the six boys on stage led the audience in a rabble-rousing crescendo that had everyone at least bobbing, if not doing an all-out jig.