If The Felice Brothers are kinda/sorta the Second Coming of The Band, then Simone Felice is kinda/sorta the new Levon Helm (God rest his soul). Given that Helm spent the entirety of his post-Band existence not speaking to Robbie Robertson, it’s probably all for the best that Simone left the Felice Brothers and went solo in 2009. He plays First Unitarian on June 1st in support of his swell, just-released solo debut. A hymn-like collection of achingly beautiful downbeat Americana, Simone’s solo debut should be filed somewhere in between Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago and the last Low Anthem album. We have a pair of tickets to give away to the first Phawker reader to email us at FEED@PHAWKER.COM and tell us the name of Simone’s debut novel. Please include a mobile number for confirmation. Good luck and godspeed.
SIMONE FELICE: I am on a ferryboat from Hollyhead to Dublin when I get the news from home: Levon has passed away. First thing I do is turn my head to the window and find the cold blue sea beyond, the waves like a living, dancing quilt rolling out to meet the sky. Could it have been little more than a month back that I sat on a wooden bench not five feet from his drum-riser as he played and sang Ophelia with the grace of a veteran dancer, the spirit of a country preacher, at once lithe, weather-worn, fiery, weary, imperishable. It is true there was a gleam in his eye. Like a school-boy skipping classes all afternoon to while away the hours with friends down by the river’s edge, elemental wonders, overjoyed just to live within earshot of the sound of music. MORE
PREVIOUSLY: Impersonating the Band hasn’t been a decent-paying gig since Scorsese filmed The Last Waltz in 1976, but judging by the full-up crowd at the Trocadero Thursday night, the Felice Brothers seem to be on their way. Actually, impersonating sounds a little too dismissive and I like these guys, so let’s go with evoking or carrying on the old, weird Americana tradition of the Band. Besides, the brothers have the pedigree (they hail from the Hudson River valley), they’ve paid their dues (busking in the subways of New York, going acoustic at the Newport Folk Festival, woodshedding at Levon Helm’s Barn Burner), and, more important, they are naturals, having just released Yonder Is the Clock, their fifth casually brilliant album of the aforementioned old, weird Americana. Of the five Felice Brothers standing onstage at the Troc, only two were actual blood brothers named Felice: waifish singer/guitarist Ian Felice, who looked like Dylan ’63 and sang like Dylan ’68, and bearlike keyboard/accordionist James Felice, who looked like a young Hank Williams Jr. in his beard and Zorro hat. The third blood Felice Brother, drummer Simone, has elected not to tour this time out, and was replaced by Jeremy Backofen, who, in tandem with snake-fingered bass player Christmas Clapton, gave the band’s two-hour set the requisite chugging heft. Fiddler/washboard-picker Greg Farley seemed vested with the responsibility of maintaining the band’s rowdy live rep as he flailed around the stage like a gorilla on roller skates and intermittently bashed the drummer’s cymbals with his washboard. A large part of the charm of the Felice Brothers’ live show is that you get the distinct impression they would be having this much fun even if nobody showed up. There is something about the way they all smile when they play, as if they shared some wonderful private joke that you want in on – kind of like The Basement Tapes. Much like the albums, Thursday night’s show alternated between barn-burning hoedowns in the Poguesian tradition of everyone-grab-an-instrument-and-make-a-joyous-noise (a stomping “Chicken Wire” and a howl-at-the-moon “Memphis Flu”) and sweetly downer folkadelic introspection (a Wilcoesque “The Big Surprise,” a stately “Cooperstown”). Especially noteworthy was a ripping spin through the subterranean homesick blues of “Penn Station” and a positively grand and otherworldly “The Greatest Show on Earth,” which is one of those unforgettable songs where you know something’s happening, but you don’t know what it is. Do you, Mr. Jones? — JONATHAN VALANIA, 2009