The Felice Brothers & Willy Mason | Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London | 30 May 2013
Afterwards, as I drove the motorway miles home from the capital, the Twitter feeds awash with “best gig ever” messages, I was thinking that, in many ways, The Felice Brothers remind me of The Clash.
Ian and Jimmy Felice, a rustic Strummer and Jones feeding from each other and the crowd’s energy, while ex travelling dice player Christmas Clapton sternly stalks the stage around them, bass slung low, a rustic Paul Simenon. The songs with their deep appreciation, fascination and dissection of the American Dream, then there are the political references, the showbiz references, the tales of corruption, of card sharps and loan sharks, chancers, grifters and desperadoes, gangland encounters and brushes with the law, the ever present ghost of Woody Guthrie, and just like the Clash, the Felice Brothers can also be a brilliant covers band.
Not only that, but watching them perform on Thursday in west London (no coincidence that we were on established Clash home-territory), it was clear that when the stars align and the mood is right, then the Felice Brothers can be one of the most thrilling live music experiences you could ever hope for.
Prior to the main event we had a solo show from Willy Mason. His easy-going, good natured bonhomie warmly reciprocated by the audience as he ran through some old favourites like Oxygen and some new ones, a slow as molasses Restless Fugitive and the rockabilly shuffle of I Got Gold. It was the perfect hors d’oeuvre, the appetite sharpened and anticipation heightened.
And so it was on to the main attraction – a homecoming of sorts for the band – Jimmy Felice affectionately reminiscing about one of the first gigs outside of the States that they ever played being in this exact same area of the city. Showcasing a handful of new songs from a forthcoming album, of which set opener Butch Cassidy and the sleazy blues licks of Some Say, are surely destined to become FB classics, the party mood was set early as sing-along anthem Whiskey In My Whiskey was second up on the menu, meeting with raucous and delighted approval.
It was a brilliantly judged set, mixing songs from their extensive and varied back catalogue to perfection. The ramshackle helter skelter of Run Chicken Run rubbing shoulders with the pathos of Wonderful Life and the carnival voodoo chant of Fire At The Pageant tempered by the small town despair of Dead Dog and the solo, sorrowful second coming of Mating Of The Doves.
Elsewhere The Ballad Of Lou The Welterweight and Cus’s Catskill Gym proved (if it needed proving) that the Felice Brothers have two of the best ever songs about boxing, and from pugilists to the 1,000 strong voices singing along word-for-word to Frankie’s Gun and the Woody Guthrie style cover of traditional fiddle folk tune Cumberland Gap. Finally, an hour and forty minutes later the band reluctantly exited stage left after an encore climaxing with the barn dance stomp of Sail Away Ladies and Penn Station.
The Felice Brothers – the greatest show on Earth? Reckon so. Upstairs, Joe Strummer will have approved.
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)Follow @madmackerel