Monday, November 3, 2008

American Music: The Felice Brothers, New York City, 11/2/08

A few weeks ago, I defiantly inquired whether there were any artists who would "step up to the plate" and lead us towards a new renaissance in the arts. Well, I'm relieved to say that there is at least one taker: The Felice Brothers. Last evening (and early morning), I witnessed about 90 minutes of floor-stomping, washboard-scrubbing, beard-wielding and accordion -- eh, churning musical bliss. The show was at "Spiegelworld," an indoor tent situated on the docks of the river of lower Manhattan -- creepy frigates and all. It's the sort of place you'd picture in La Strada, not the big apple. Nonetheless, it was both cozy and eerily charming, and with no more than 350 people inside, it had more of the upstate-backyard barbeque vibe than the normal uptight and pretentious New York City concert experience.

I'm not going to write about the band's background, because thanks to a fellow Weightstaffer, that was done a while back (November, 2007 to be exact). The Hudson Valley natives, all with names right out of a Washington Irving novel (Ian, Simone, and James Felice, Christmas, and Farley), are a rare gem in a music scene inundated with hipster wannabes and fly-by-night, immodest "singer-songwriter" types. Of course, it would be cliche to say that The Felice Brothers are The Band incarnate or Dylan disciples, because anyone who hears or sees these fellas for less than 30 seconds, can easily gather that much. But what sets them apart from the other "new" acts I've seen in recent years is that these guys are real -- you truly believe in them, or at least I do. The Band, was more or less a group of Canadians (minus Levon) who transplanted in upstate New York, as part homage to the visionary American folk-life experience. In contrast, The Felice Brothers are from that region; namely, a town called Palenville, nestled in the serene glory of the Catskill Mountains. They sing about their history, their wanderings, loves lost, firearms, and well, whiskey...and I believe every word of it. Sure, they're a bit rough around the edges, the instruments look like they came from grandpa's attic, and the sound was far from properly engineered (maybe the venue was to blame), but this is the appeal of The Felice Brothers. The hell with the fancy equipment and the hipster hairdos; unlike their competition (if there is any) these guys live, breathe, and probably bleed the lifestyle they so aptly write about.

They played their usual standards including "Frankie's Gun!", "Ruby Mae," "Saint Stephens End" (perhaps a nod to the Dead), and a rabble-rousing rendition of "Whiskey In My Whiskey," which I thought would leave our tent hopelessly floating down the East River. Sure, there were times when I was waiting for them to tear up a version of "Rag Mama Rag" or "Ain't No More Cane," but the boys weren't there to recreate The Band -- they were there to tell their own story.

But I can't resist mentioning that there were moments when I felt as if I was watching a young group of Rick Dankos stampeding around the stage; particularly Ian Felice, whose spontaneous and almost spastic jigging was reminiscent of a forty-niner who struck gold at Sutter's Mill. James Felice, with his floppy farmer's hat and Rip Van Winkle beard, must be the love child of Garth Hudson. He not only makes the accordion "cool," but handles the organ with great ease as well. And then there is Farley. Seemingly the odd man of the group (sans facial hair), he is perhaps their unsung hero. Between his possessed discipline on the washboard and his abuse of the fiddle, he is the yeast that makes up the moonshine that is The Felice Brothers. All the while Christmas solemnly thumps away and Simone, the most outspoken member of the group, theatrically prods the audience to sing along in falsetto.

There is an old adage that says, "imitation is the highest form of flattery;" well, if The Felice Brothers chose to follow in the vein of Dylan and The Band, that is just damn fine by me.


Anonymous said...

"particularly Ian Felice, whose spontaneous and almost spastic jigging was reminiscent of a forty-niner who struck gold at Sutter's Mill."

that is great.

great post. Also on stage, A.A. Bondy, a felice brother-in-law. Who tends to open up for the brothers, but last night chose to hide in the back as an extra felice brother. Check out his solo album, "american hearts." keep up the good work.


Some Dude said...

Great write up, it was truly fantastic night at one of the coolest venues around.

It was my 5th times seeing them this year and it never gets old. Each time the music seems fresh and the band and audiences energy is inspiring. You can't leave without having a smile on your face - worth be out till past 1 AM on a Sunday night.

WeightStaff said...

Nice review. Sounds like a good time for a cold Sunday night in the city. Although I take offense to the uptight and pretentious New York concert experience comment! I don't think thats the overall vibe here. I just think the folks here are tough to impress. My 2 cents.


Ryan said...

well written piece, really dug it. i'm searching for some of their stuff now to listen to.

earl said...

Great post! The Felice Brothers have the best chances in being successful in the music world.

laspia said...

wow you lucky git. Id love to see them live but they dont get over to Italy much. Fantastic band.

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