And so it was to Birmingham and the HMV Institute to see the rescheduled, and still hotly anticipated, Felice Brothers gig with the Hold Steady’s Craig Finn as support replacing the previously scheduled AA Bondy.
We parked in a back street, bathed in the blue neon of a tired looking Adult shop with its tatty handwritten sign, “No drugs. No hats.“. Headed off, Popper, Barry-Sean, Analyse this Stu, MM and Big Pic – country mice in the town.
The venue was upstairs and Craig Finn and his band had just started their set. Lumberback shirts abound on stage and in the audience as we are treated to the songs from his much acclaimed solo album. Despite resembling Woody Allen in mannerisms, they pull it off – the quality of the songwriting shines through and the band are casually, confidently tight. Highlights are Honolulu Blues, the rolling rhythms of Terrified Eyes and the slow, sad, middle aged desperation of marital separation in Rented Room.
And so then, time for the main event. The Felice Brothers slouched on stage in the gloom, shuffled around, Jimmy Felice benign and accommodating, Xmas Clapton sullen and threatening, fiddle player Greg Farley energetic and exuberant, Dave Turbeville understated and unfazed at the drums, and centre stage Ian Felice, dishevelled and self absorbed and possessor of the finest croaky voice since Robert Zimmerman.
They erupted into a three song shuffle where The Greatest Show on Earth and Honda Civic immediately set a marker for the night. Big Pic exited the pit as the lights came up. On stage Jimmy grinned, wheezed his accordion, swapped whispers with his brother. They prowled the boards telling tales of the famous falling from grace, of shootings and double crossings, offered up plaintive laments and recalled loves lost. Sleaze and decay are unflinchingly revealed, rotten underbellies exposed and yet throughout flickers of hope are gently identified and moments of tenderness are cherished.
As one they effortlessly switched from swampy voodoo chants to trippy beats to whiskey bar blues and a good old fashioned murder ballad. They took us with them from the gangster days of Chicago to the mountains of the Catskills and from the diminished grandeur and dried sweat of the boxing gym to the back yards of forgotten rural America. All the time we sang and roared, raised imaginary shots of whiskey, stamped our feet and swayed along. Birmingham be damned, for ninety glorious minutes this could have been a party on a riverboat steamer or in a backwoods bar with old bullet holes scarring the walls.
The Felice Brothers are all the R words. Ramshackle, rollicking, raucous, rambunctious, rowdy. They are a carnival band in the best sense of the word taking in everything and spitting it back out with humour, irony, pathos and a gritty realism. Best of all they have a unique brand of rural Americana that is real and genuine and authentic and completely true to themselves.
Tonight all this and more is generously offered up to the audience and we gleefully accept in a like-for-like spirit of joyful delirium and abandon.
The Felice Brothers – lots of drugs, lots of hats.
Download The Felice Brothers – Fire At The Pageant mp3 (from Celebration, Florida)
Download The Felice Brothers – Frankie’s Gun mp3 (from The Felice Brothers)
Download The Felice Brothers – Run Chicken Run mp3 (from Yonder Is The Clock)
Download The Felice Brothers – Rockefeller Druglaw Blues mp3 (from Tonight At The Arizona)
Download The Felice Brothers – Behind That Locked Door mp3 (from Mojo Tribute To George Harrison)Follow @madmackerel