The Felice Brothers are a fiercesome live proposition. Mad, bad and possibly dangerous to
know they’re a band of upstate New Yorkers who have a reputation for ripping the roof off
venues with the kind of regularity that most bands reserve for moaning about their effects
pedals. If I wanted to get all flowery about it I might say they’re like a bunch of possessed
Pogues fanatics with a penchant for making the kind of roots racket that makes you glad to
be alive while channelling the spirit of both the Carter and Manson families in the process.
That however might be overselling things a little. Let’s just say they’re pretty damn good by
I’ve only caught them in the flesh once but it remains one of the maddest gigs I’ve ever
witnessed. They were playing in a makeshift tent type thing out the back of a pub at South
By South West in Austin, Texas a few years ago when every coke addled journo from every
coke addled music magazine was fawning over the band as “the next big thing” in American
roots music. As I remember it was elbow to elbow with rayban wearing wasters, rubbing
their noses and telling each other that “these Felice guys are the hottest band on the planet
right now”. A pretty nightmarish crowd to be trapped in frankly but such was the quality of
the brothers performance that I stuck it out right to the end. It was a seriously sweaty gig
from start to finish with people literally hanging from the rafters at one point. Admittedly most
of them were members of the band but I’m all for a bit of showmanship and stagecraft when
the moment calls for it and the noise those guys made was shockingly good despite most of
them spending a good part of the evening suspended a couple of feet above the stage.
Anyone who listens to my radio show will know I’m a big fan of the band’s first two studio
albums, Tonight At The Arizona and The Felice Brothers, and Simone from the band is a
good friend (his side project The Duke And The King are equally astonishing and were the
highlights of last year’s Open House for me in case you’re interested) but live these guys are
something else altogether.
That they’re on a double bill at festival this year with the mighty Wilco only proves how
big and proud Open House is getting these days. I’ve never had the pleasure of seeing
Jeff Tweedy and co live but I remember buying their debut album Being There like it was
yesterday. I was well taken with their ragged arse take on classic Rolling Stones riffery and
while it’s been a wild and wondrous ride with the band since then I still find myself going
back to that first album to this day.
That’s why you’d be well advised to make sure you don’t miss Wilco and The Felice Brothers
at this year’s fest. I’m not sure what the rafters situation is for Custom House Square but I
have a feeling the marquee just might not be able to take the strain.
Ralph McLean, BBC Radio Ulster Presenter, Tuesday – Friday, 8 – 10pm, 94.5FM