LIVE: A Weekend with the Felice Brothers, 3/25-26/11
PART I: The Oneonta Theater, 3/25/11
I think I made a mistake.
I had decided early on to see the Felice Brothers again for the second time in about 2 months at the Oneonta Theater on Friday night. Later, when they announced a date at Club Helsinki for the following night, I debated, but I thought I wanted to see and experience them in a venue I had never been in, farther out of town, and in this neat old theater setting.
Mistake it was. Have we had enough of a very small minority of overly drunk – in this case, add rude and obnoxious – college students ruining a good time for the majority of others?
The Oneonta Theater is a hell of a place to see a great band play, and a great band played there Friday night. The Felice Brothers delivered and delivered on all cylinders, changing their onstage charisma entirely while re-arranging the set list in a more satisfying way also, from two months ago in North Adams. The show two months ago at MASS MoCA was stellar, and James Felice led the way with ferocious accordion playing, strong vocals and the strongest presence of any of the group onstage. On this night in Oneonta, it was very different, with Ian Felice being the driving force throughout the evening – playing with adrenalin-fueled abandon that was not exactly at the front in North Adams.
When Ian wasn’t spinning, darting, dipping, jumping onto the drum kit or monitors, he was instead playing on his knees and finally flat out on his back and seemingly in need of being revived to get vertical again and carry on. Okay, the rest of his bandmates did all contribute fiercely, but this was quite the different show than two months earlier. Ian was the focal point of sound and vision throughout the show.
The evening started amusingly enough with a theater security guy running after a loose bat while swinging a large game fishing net in the air. Obviously this is something that occurs there often enough to have such a net at the ready, and such an employee knowing exactly what to do. From there, it was onto the opening act Diamond Doves, whose vocals sounded full, but whose songs lacked magnetism. It was three really good-looking guys, sounding like a rock band, looking like a rock band, but just not feeling like one.
The Felice Brothers upped the ante almost immediately in their set by launching into the intense, over-the-top “Run Chicken Run” as their second offering. As much of a challenge as it was to keep up that pace for the rest of the evening, they managed. Unfortunately at two points of the show, James’ incredible soft heartfelt ballads were marred by the few in the crowd that were ruining it for the rest of us. It was a welcome return to loud raucous offerings that drowned out these distractions in the crowd each time when James finished. Too bad, as these were highlights two months earlier at MoCA.
Noteworthy was the fact that they didn’t perform “Frankie’s Gun.” I might have even glimpsed Ian motioning near the end of the main set to skip a tune or two and get off the stage early. They did come back for an encore, but it didn’t include “Frankie’s Gun.”
Between songs they did manage to start a little audience chant of “5-10-11” to note the date of their upcoming album’s imminent release. This show was absolutely great when it drowned out the loud talking and laughing in the crowd by those nonsensical enough to think the evening was all about them, and not about the band and the rest of the audience.
“Well, I’m standing in line in the cold to see a show starring the Felice Brothers.
Yeh, but you know it’s not the one I had in mind.
They have a new one coming out, I don’t even know what it’s about,
but I’ll see them anytime, so I’ll stand in line.”
Review and photographs by Martin Benjamin
PART II: Club Helsinki Hudson, 3/26/11
Saturday night’s show was a glorious homecoming hootenanny for the Felice Brothers in Hudson, as they played a triumphant, sold-out-plus concert. More than once, accordionist-keyboardist James Felice thanked the family and friends that had packed into Club Helsinki Hudson and proudly told then that he was born just down the street. Guitarist-vocalist Ian Felice took over the stage for a solo performance of a brand spankin’ new song – “I wrote it just last week,” he admitted – that he dedicated to his mother, who was in attendance at the show.
And everybody got a hearty laugh, as they told tales about busking on the sidewalk in front of the Mexican Radio restuarant over on Warren Street, and of sleeping in their cars at night.
Obviously, the band has come an awful long way since those not-so-distant days. Heck, they opened for the Dave Matthews Band at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center last summer.
And they simply rocked Hudson. They ripped it up at breakneck tempo with “Run Chicken Run” and “White Limo.” They slowed it down to heartbreak ballad tempo for “Wonderful Life” and “Hey Hey Revolver.” They fired up the pub sing-along “Whiskey in My Whiskey.”
The band – bassist Christmas Clapton, drummer David Turbeville and fiddler Greg Farley – left the stage for the brothers Felice duet on “I Got What I Need,” to kick off a string of encores. And they closed out the night with a decidedly hip-hop-ish rendition of “Frankie’s Gun” with wildman Farley stalking the stage with his well-worn washboard.
Most importantly, they sneak-previewed a batch of new tunes from their upcoming album, “Celebration Florida,” which is due out on Fat Possum Records in May. And the tunes pointed in new directions without abandoning the band’s rag-tag roots. “Dallas” was a rollicking, semi-honky-tonker. “Cus’s Catskill Gym” paid homage to Iron Mike Tyson and his former trainer Cus D’Amato, and the hometown crowd cheered, especially during the chant of “Stay away from Don King.” Best of all, however, was “Ponzi,” which incorporated a drum machine.
Obviously, the Felice Brothers are going places. But on a night like this one, it was so good to know that they’ll keep coming home, too.