Uncut Editor's Diary

The Felice Brothers At The 100 Club

Allan Jones

They look, famously, on the cover of last year’s Tonight At The Arizona album, like the wayward off-spring of The Band, with whose songs and music their own colourful excursions into the hinterlands of ‘the old, weird America’, as essayed by Bob and The Band on The Basement Tapes, are frequently compared.

Tonight, they’ve left the suits, overcoats, snap-brim hats and battered fedoras in the wardrobe back at the shack you like to think they live in, somewhere out in the hills, a whiskey still and whatever it takes to brew your own crystal meth behind it. But they still manage to look like the kind of hillbilly clan you might find stalking through the pages of a country noir classic by Daniel Woodrell – Winter’s Bone, say, or The Death Of Sweet Mister.

Which is to say, they look like the people who could cause mayhem and a fair amount of havoc for no better reason than the sheer hell of it, drummer and occasional singer Simone Felice looking from the off tonight like he’s especially in the mood for a certain amount wildness. He’s wild-eyed and shirtless by the gig’s climax and hanging from a monitor fitting in the ceiling by the end of the second song, a raucous take on “Ruby Mae”, a boozy waltz from the recent The Felice Brothers album, which if you haven’t heard it yet is one of the records of the year so far. Man, he looks wired.

“Thank you for your hospitality,” says brother Ian, himself a scrappy looking guy who looks like he’d be hard to put down if the going got rough, before handing over to big and bearded bother James, who after a generous swig of Jack Daniel’s leads the crew into a rousing “Whiskey In My Whiskey”, also from the new album. It’s raucous, more than a little demented and provokes a hearty, full-throated response from a very lively, sold-out crowd.

When they aren’t singing about drinking, the Felice Brothers’ bristling repertoire of truly outstanding original material veers variously towards songs about guns, sex, drugs, hard bleak times, heartbreak, martyrdom, loss, death, redemption, reckless women, doing time, chickens and The Lord, with whom they appear on several songs to have issues.

Tonight, then, there are great, battered loser’s laments like the unbearably sad and wistfully wry “Rockerfeller Druglaw Blues”, about a drug-runner’s fateful bust (chorus: “Fifteen grams of heroin and an ounce of speed/Means fifteen years to life/Rockerfeller, Rockerfeller, that’s a long old time”), and the rowdier “Frankie’s Gun” (as featured on Uncut’s Long Time Gone CD), about the fatal falling out between a couple of hapless hoods on a drug run to Chicago, which ends the scheduled set on a thoroughly rambunctious high.

There are, too, amid the general larkishness and more obvious singalong crowd-pleasers - “Radio Song”, “Save Our Saviour”, “Run Chicken Run”, among them – exquisitely poignant moments like “Mercy”, the dark, brooding and fatalistic “Hey Hey Revolver”, which contemporises the dustbowl desperation of “The Ballad Of Hollis Brown”, the truly beautiful “St Stephen’s End” and “Your Belly in My Arms”, tonight’s first encore, stunningly delivered by Simone, solo and frighteningly intense.

It ends with the holy-rolling gospel shakedown of “Ain’t Gonna Think About Trouble Anymore” and “Glory Glory”, by which time, at least half the audience are on stage with the band, giving it their noisy all.

Riotously good stuff. Bring ‘em back soon.


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