LIVE: THE FELICE BROTHERS – 18/03/2012
It’s Sunday at The Academy 2 and it’s sure to be sordid. I’ve always imagined The Felice Brothers as this band of rough-as-old-boots American country boys with their tales of violence and alcoholism and impregnating peoples daughters, and despite the fact that they’re actually all fairly young and handsome fellas, I am by no means to be disappointed.
The first thing I notice when walking up the stairs and into Room 2 of the Academy is the abundance of bald heads and beards in the crowd. It’s good to see the older fanbase are out in full force, not just another teenage fad these lot!
Supporting tonight is Craig Finn of The Hold Steady who, with the help of a four-piece backing group plays a fairly well put together set of soft rock tunes, made rather more interesting by Finn’s lyrical storytelling, which seems to revolve around various themes of misery, personal breakdown and despair. Not exactly crowd-hype material but hey, every cowboy sings a sad, sad song.
After the support act is finished the crowd are restless, all that gentle melancholy has left me craving something with a little more vim and vigour, so as The Felice Brothers take to the stage I am pleased to hear them open their set with a track from their self-titled album, ‘Greatest Show On Earth’. Despite its rather cheery name it’s a sinister affair, stomping drums and growling vocals and Greg Farley tearing it up on the fiddle with much gusto all of a fluster.
It’s a great opening song because it introduces us to a sound which they keep returning to throughout the set and which I have always felt summed up The Felice Brothers somewhat – heavy folk and blues influences with some big loud guitars and drums thrown in, all topped off with one brother Ian Felice’s 40-Marlboro-a-day husky voice telling stories of life on the shit end of town, and you can almost smell his whiskey breath.
They’re not just one trick ponies though, last year they released an album, ‘Celebration, Florida’ which sees them experimenting with new sounds. Programmed beats, more prominent synth lines and heavier riffs are incorporated into their songs, and tracks like ‘Fire At The Pageant’ and ‘Ponzi’ have a carnivalesque sound, they’re still as folkie as ever, except they know how to play super loud, one minute they scream backwoods America like Chevy pickups and shotguns on living room walls and the next minute the thunderous drums start crashing like storms in hell and they’re thrashing about all maniacal.
I start to fear that it’s never going to get any more upbeat when about half way through their set they play a couple of their more well known numbers. First of all the epic ‘Frankie’s Gun’, the one I had certainly been waiting for, with another brother James Felice’s trademark accordion and it’s lyrical tale of a friendship turned oh-so-sour, “Slip make a fender shine//Frankie you’re a friend of mine//Got me off a bender after long-legged Brenda died.” They follow it up with the great sing-along tune ‘Whiskey In My Whiskey’ which even gets the old folks shouting along.
During the evening they don’t talk much, and they play a reasonably short set, but they are an undeniably talented band with a brilliant sound, raw, wild, no pretence, and great fun.