For the second consecutive night at The Loft in Dallas, a band showed up and gave the crowd not only more than it bargained for, but almost a different product than what was expected, altogether.
On Friday night, Freelance Whales managed to beef up and bolster their cute tunes into something substantial and rather dramatic.
On Saturday night, The Felice Brothers provided the crowd of what seemed to be around 250 an hour and a half of shock and awe. Featuring an accordion, fiddle -- and, get this, a washboard -- a night of rootsy porch-stomping seemed to be imminent. Of course, anyone who would expect such a vibe completely from this band hasn't truly been paying attention. Sure, the New York outfit's recent releases lean heavily towards the indie-country and folk ends of the musical spectrum, but not without several notable detours in terrain that rocks a goodly amount.
After the first few tunes -- including the opening number, "Murder by Mistletoe" -- were complete, one thing was apparent and would prove to be theme for the night: A sonic unpredictability and generally loose vibe would reign supreme, regardless of how a song may sound on record. And, truth be told, early on in the set, it wasn't clear as to whether such recklessness would be a positive or negative.
The set list surely satisfied any who have followed them for the last few years. Even with a newer album out, the set focused on the two albums previous to their Mix Tape, released this past spring. Perhaps the familiarity of the songs was key, as the Brothers Felice weren't exactly worried about executing finely honed and exact replicas of the various album cuts. At times, especially with the songs that featured a greater focus on electric instrumentation, the ramshackle feel wore thin and some of the song-ending cacophonies simply distracted from the performance, and, on occasion, resembled little more than plain noise. At other times, however, the inventive nuances that certain songs were given helped them become far more dynamic than they are on record.
Guitarist and lead singer Ian Felice isn't what most would deem a great singer, but man, the dude sounds great when he sings. His seemingly one-dimensional tones were the perfect counterpoint to the times when accordion and piano player, James Felice and fiddle and washboard player, Greg Farley, would boisterously join in on harmonies, as they enthusiastically did in "Run, Chicken, Run," and "Frankie's Gun!"
It was the fun, rambunctious moments that lifted the evening out of any possible let-down. While "St. Stephens End" and "Wonderful Life," surely provided the evening with a calming few minutes; "Love Me Tenderly" steered the ship back into the bouncing, rootsy hayride that many have come to expect from this band.
But, the unpredictable fun wasn't over. For the encore closing, fan-favorite "Whiskey in My Whiskey," the band stepped up the tempo of the historically plodding number -- which is about a man who is planning on doing some bad things to a bad girl named Eleanor -- and presented it as an all-out Gospel-flavored sing-along that satisfyingly celebrated the dark events of the tune, instead of lamenting them, as is the case in the studio version.
With each player changing positions and switching instruments throughout the set, a certain chaos could've been detected, but the madness that carried over into the tunes actually seemed to help it all make sense in the end.
Personal Bias: I really think that "Frankie's Gun!", even as popular as it is in certain circles, isn't near as famous of a song as it should be. It's pretty genius.
By The Way: Greg Farley, the fiddle player, dances and moves like a hype man for a hip-hop act. As a friend of mine mentioned to me during the set, it was tough to reconcile the image of a wranglers-wearing fiddle player bopping and weaving while wagging his chain during the set. Regardless, his energy and passion were as undeniable as they were appreciated.
Random Note: I'm tired of the traditional encore routine. This antiquated method is especially awkward at a place like The Loft, where a band basically has to either stand directly next to the stage, in plain sight of the crowd, or walk all the way to the back of the room, only to walk back immediately. Enough already. Bands: Play your set -- every song you intend on playing -- and then leave the stage for good. Thanks.