Underneath the murky swell of smoke and musk at Kentish Towns’ The Forum, what appeared to be a rogue band of traveller-musicians shambled on stage. Dressed in raggedy clothes and oversized t-shirts, they wouldn’t have looked out of place at a street production of Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. Armed with a fantastic array of instruments; violins, accordions, an organ and a huge, looming drum-kit; they lit up the stage extraordinarily. If one didn’t know the brothers – and they are brothers – one may be inclined to think they came from the southern depths of America.
It is surprising then, to find out that The Felice Brothers come from upstate New York, near the beautiful Adirondacks. It’s a place with a foreboding name; The Catskill Mountains. They live remotely, at a ranch with a chicken coop. These farmhands, however, house a glittering array of books. In a past interview, I remember James Felice – vocalist and accordian maestro – lamenting the fact they never get recognised as being ‘bookish’. They came across as intelligent artists; shy and retiring, full of ambition & vigour which burnt silently under the surface.
It was this vigour that was so resplendent tonight.
The band played crowd stompers, hee-haww anthems, ballads and the signature songs – Frankie’s Gun, Whiskey in my Whiskey, Love Me Tenderly.
It’s the brooding numbers that get me like a kick in the nutsack. The songs swell and swell, until you either get lost or fall over. This made for a laugh when my mate did exactly that. The fact he was blind drunk by this point was neither here nor there.
These songs have that authentic Felice feel; they’re bluesy; they have characters and more importantly narrative. Outlaws, bent card-dealers and lizard-licking drunks shag Eleanor, fight with Danny, then get shot by Frankie – who fortunately is an AA counsellor, “Frankie you’re a friend of mine/ Got me off a bender after long-legged Brenda died”.
Here we were at the great Forum. My companion was a chap whose first language was football and music was somewhere down the list filed under ‘other enjoyments which aren’t as essential as eating’. This lead a strange ambience to the night, when even after the band had come on – to great cheering and clapping – he still rambled on in my ear about the Russian head coach and how he has lost all faith in international football since the last world cup. A very valid point which deserves further discussion just as The Felice Brothers deserved his attention that night.
We had missed the two support bands so I can’t comment on them, although one gent in the urinals believed the second act to be like a band of misfit’s so deranged they had brought on the remains of their grandma’s whom they had enjoyed as a midday snack. Those were his exact words. Anyway, I digress.
The band came on. Originally, they featured all three brothers, but former drummer Simon Felice upped and left, started a new act with Robert ‘Chicken’ Burke called The Duke & the King (named after the duo con-artists in Huckleberry Finn). Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but there have been rumours of animosity ever since. Not all was well in the Catskill Mountains it seems.
Its worth noting Simon is successful in his own right; he’s a prolific poet & author. He’s overcome his fair share of adversities; at a young age he was pronounced clinically dead for several minutes after a brain aneurysm.
Back to the gig…
This modern incarnation of the brothers features only two of them, Ian and James. They were joined by former travelling dice player “Christmas Clapton”, fiddle player Greg Farley and drummer Dave Estabrook. Ian is lead vocalist and a drainpipe of a man. James holds court with his accordion like a rugged, beautiful bear. He’s huge and his muscular arms look perfect for a scrap. His demeanour seems gentle however, like Walt Whitman inviting you to a pint. He sits down at the piano for the ballads. The accordion comes out for the fast-paced stompers, where people romp & fist the air, and in my drunken friend’s case, mockingly dance like a hillbilly.
They came on with the lights bright on them; the smoke misty fog around their ankles. My football obsessed friend made refreshing remarks, “that guitarist will fall over any minute by the weight of that guitar. Look how big the guitar is and how fookin’ skinny he is!” He was skinny but nimble on his feet like a basketball player.
They went into the stomper Take This Bread! Well received from the crowd. A brilliant melody with a biblical quality to the lyrics. It really is like going to a drunken shack-party. Next up was Day of the Big Surprise.
There were some scorching violin ballads with notes breaking into the air like a stiletto cutting cable wire. All this was complimented by schizophrenic lighting and buzzing amps. The atmosphere became increasingly dramatic throughout the show – at one point James looked heavenwards, sweat on his brow; bathing in the ecstasy of the Almighty.
The drink had snuck up on me. Too many cheap lagers and whiskey shots. I was being chucked side to side by none other than a Jarvis Cocker impersonator. My hooligan friend was nowhere to be seen. A man with a moustache and spectacles – the most unlikely candidate for mosh-pit aggression – pushed into me hard and I went under. A wave of people collided over me, stomping on my hands like I was nothing but road-kill. I thought my time was up. Then, like a golden angel my football-fanatic mate rescued me. He shoved and kicked, beautifully violent, pulling me up with a force reserved for those who’ve been marched out of football stadiums for rioting. What a wonderful man. I could have kissed him. Instead I dusted myself off, trying to look like I hadn’t hypothetically shat myself.
This sort of stuff was always going to happen at a gig like this. After all, this is the sort of band that rhyme bad mechanics with manic depressives.
After that menacing episode things calmed down. The band went into The Greatest Show on Earth, and focus returned to the music. It was all shadows on stage. Suddenly great drumsticks appeared through the mist. He was using mallets. I felt the bass reverberating through my bones. The curtains were roaring red like lipstick gum. Suddenly the crowd broke into a fury as the band played Frankie’s Gun. I was now expecting a bar-room brawl. Luckily it was nothing but love. We were through the danger-zone.
To encore they went into the best song of the night, Love me Tenderly. A story of pillboxes, dime-sacks and diamond watches – this is The Felice Brothers at their best. The lyrics “A sunny day, a shotgun and a Chevrolet” still ringing in my ear’s long after the gig.
The Felice Brothers are a special enigma of a band; the bassist looks like a space-nerd, they write fantastic literary songs of outlaws and drunks, they play virtuoso violin ballads, and yet they still manage to sound like they learnt to play in an Irish pub. This night they came to The Forum and dominated.
By Tom Proctor
Chris Lowe and Neil Tennant’s respective dress styles couldn’t be anything more unlike. Chris looks like a Neil Diamond-esque crooner; the top hat, blazer and dark brogues missing only a matching cane for him to be the compere of an Anna Karenina-style burlesque show; whereas Neil goes for a more D’n’B-inspired kit out; slack bottoms with frighteningly bright trackie top – from a distance he appeared to be a halogen light. Well no matter. However dissimilar in appearance they may be, they are certainly in tune musically. The bread and butter of this duo’s sound being catchy keyboard-synth motifs accompanied by 80’s-style drumbeats and Chris’s understated pop-honed vocals which blend with the music like banana and pineapple blend into a fruit smoothie.
With Neil playing from behind his keyboard which had an ensemble music stand attached, he looked something akin to a Priest of the chavs, giving his sermon on the easiest way to jack locked-up bikes or how to evade the police after one’s midnight graffiti session goes awry. Or at least that’s what I’ve been told he looked like from one friend in the throng of the standing crowd, many feet below me. That’s the problem with the o2, its sheer size, and here I was some 200 feet or more above the band and those lucky few below me allowed the space to dance. And dance was all one wanted to do at a Pet Shop Boys performance; juttering, spluttering, pulsating electro-synth beats echoed through this palladium of sound as the amplifiers in (what seemed) their thousands served the 360-degree audience, most of whom were high up like me, feeling the waves of electronica ripple over them a few moments after the electrified denizens of the dance masse below.
Starting out with “Love is a Bourgeois Construct” and other singles from their newest album, Electric, sprightly individuals started popping up around me like popcorn seeds popping in the microwave; young girls swivelling on hips which appeared too thin to support them and older couples who were still living as if the 80’s were an eternal time capsule. They kept popping up and it wasn’t long until I was thrust against the cold metal of the balcony barrier and gasped at the height of the fall if I was to topple over. No, they wouldn’t applaud me as if I was daredevil jumping in desperation to join the dancing beasts below me; no, they wouldn’t embrace my fall and cushion me onto their shoulders as if a crowd-surfer; no: they would separate and I would splat on the hard, cold concrete floor like a dead bug. A Pet Shop Boys gig is a more ferocious machine than I anticipated.
The boys sprang into a few golden oldies, “Go West” and “Left to my Own Devices” and the crowd lost it. Cheering and shouting in adulation as if David Cameron had delivered a speech on the hypocrisies of his own party, the music heightened in sync with the ecstasy inside the o2 arena. My head was spinning in enjoyment and fear; I was still rattled from almost plummeting to my death. What a way to go, they would tell my relatives, at a Pet Shop Boys gig.
Reaching the mid-point of their set, the Boys took to the task of inciting mass clapping. Neil, the chav priest himself, raised his arms and clapped to the steady pulse of the drumbeat. The audience copied, graciously. Next, a Mexican wave. Suddenly I felt as if I was surrounded by the dim-witted crowd of a football game, and the whole spectacle became cheesy and facetious.
Unexpectedly though, like a great cannon-ball being fired from the stage, the music exploded into “Always on my Mind”, and the kids, taking their cue from the cannon ball, likewise exploded. I was hugely enjoying myself, swaying here and there when suddenly the young fellow next to me who had shaved his hair within a centimetre of his scalp & who was now far drunker than he had been at the start of the concert, started jumping like a jack-in-the-box. The sweat crystallised on his forehead to the effect that his whole head appeared to be a polished bowling ball, and with every swing of that giant ball coming dangerously close to my own head, I had to start dodging and darting like a boxer. He kept blowing on this infuriating whistle as well, which was dangling around his neck as if he’d just finished referring a game of under-12’s & had found multiple uses for this instrument of torture. Still the music roared and raged, and the lights dazzled and blinked in their multi-coloured spectrum – heavy with heat – and here I was quivering like hunted prey, a pawn in the game of electronic battleships that The Pet Shop Boys were playing. With every zap of a synth a line of the crowd below me would topple over like dominoes – ironic when the boys later played Domino Dancing – evidence that the care-free hip-swivelling which was so innocent at the start of the gig, had transformed into some schizo-mix of brawling and dancing, people bouncing and bounding in a confused hurdle of bodies. And the overlords of the noise, The Pet Shop Boys, weren’t going to relent.
Reappearing for the encore, the duo upped the ante. “It’s a Sin” and “Heart” were the show-stompers; the musicians trump cards. The whole place moved in waves as the audience swayed, as if aboard a giant ship on a rickety ocean. Intoxicating and belligerent, my fellow crew-mates around me, who were all standing now, twisted and turned in the attack of Neil’s synths and Chris’s high vocals. The audience had become one, as Bono prophesised, and it became hard to know if the sweat on one man’s brow was his own or belonged to his neighbour. I was panting and trying in desperation to keep my sang-froid, weary of that rushing effect of the crowd behind me, who could have me at the mercy of the balcony barrier once again. Thankfully, the music mellowed and as Chris repeated the refrain “oh oh oh, every time”, the music started its gradual descent, and the belligerent crowd calmed. A descent it was, a swooping descent, until all that was left was the reverb of a few synth swirls, put on loop, and the duo took their bows and departed, smiles all round. I had made it, by the skin of my teeth, and those teeth were now set in a glowing smile – a fantastic concert. It only almost cost me my life.
Listen to Love is a Bourgeois Construct here.
Check out the album Electric.
By Tornado Rodgekums
We Don’t Dance To Love Songs
The Adelphi Club, Hull
The Adelphi’s success can be attributed to its decision to allow a pool of different genres to grace its dingy, sweaty floors. This was my first time at the infamous venue – which is a notable gig on what was dubbed the “toilet-tour” circuit, and its claustrophobic, anticipation-riding-in-the-wings atmosphere hit me like a wet flannel. However, once the alcohol soothed my insides, I gave my full attention to the Adelphi’s primary output – its music. We Don’t Dance To Love Songs shuffled forward earnestly on to the stage. Normally the appearance of these torrid teenagers would send me packing – all labret studs and blackline ear tunnels – but I decided to maintain an open mind, after all, these lads were from Hull. My initial excitement began to wane. Comparisons of New Found Glory and Cartel flooded my mind and I began to lose hope as I thought I was witnessing the same-old-formulaic punky-emo. Yet my disillusionment was suddenly snapped out of focus as a menacing character came flying into me holding a bottle of Stella. The mosh pit was in overdrive and it soon became infectious. Kids came crashing into each other and flopped around like a pile-up on the motorway, whilst choppy guitars and angsty vocals roared from above. This band was undoubtedly tight. Their songs also had a nice depth, with interloping riffs and harmonic chords battling against the thrashing counter-rhythms of the drummer. The drummer in question, Russ, was definitely the stand-out character of the band, mainly due to the fabulous afro he was sporting. The highlight of the set was definitely the single The View From 32, which can be purchased from the iTunes store now as part of their newly released EP.
I left the gig feeling almost uncouth; sweating, pulsating and generally exhausted. Although not my favoured music, We Don’t Dance To Love Songs certainly ramped up the intensity and brought hysteria to Adelphi’s frazzled, ancient walls.
Archived Gig Review
By Tom Proctor