Review and photographs by Martin Benjamin
When the Felice Brothers ended their first song, “Honda Civic,” last Friday night at Jillian’s in Albany, someone from the crowd yelled out, “It’s too dark up there.” The stage indeed was darkly lit with a dim blue light, much darker than most any music show. Ian Felice, pausing briefly between songs, stepped to the mic spontaneously and said to the crowd, “It’s a dark world, man.”
With that they plunged into “Run Chicken Run” for the second offering of the night. It was loud, rumbling and chaotic. The tight quarters of the stage added tension to the performance, while not seeming to rein in or limit the band’s playing. This was a rough, tough performance by these five guys.
With bass player Christmas Clapton and guitarist/vocalist Ian Felice taking turns standing high under the low ceiling on the drum kit, and Ian spending numerous times playing while crashing to or rolling on the carpeted stage floor, the Felice Brothers performed with an abandon that was mesmerizing and refreshing. James Felice brought out his accordion a few times and otherwise played keyboards, while Dave Turbeville pounded the drums. James sang in a most heartfelt manner. Perhaps most hampered by the tight quarters was fiddle player Greg Farley, who usually careens around with boundless energy.
There was some tension up front in the crowd that came out on this Friday night to Pearl Street to drink hard and hear some great rock and roll. A pretty young woman to the left center pulled a flask from her bag and swigged directly from it, using her beer in hand as a chaser. Another patron looked to be seeking a confrontation and, really, who knows how much he had drunk. Thankfully, the many others mixed in were going with the spirit of the show, and the girl from Albany directly next to me was lucid, exclaiming that she had seen the Felice Brothers twice in Ireland last month. Clearly, the devoted fans were here to take in the show.
Performing “Love Me Tenderly,” “Back In the Dancehalls,” “Ponzi,” “The Big Surprise” and other songs mid-set, the 18-song show led up to the four-pack finish of “Frankie’s Gun,” “Whiskey in My Whiskey,” “Cus’s Catskill Gym” and “Helen Fry.” The evening’s performance didn’t so much gain momentum as it went along, but rather started fueled by energy and adrenalin and just kept the pace going all through the set.
When called back for an encore, Ian Felice eventually called up a couple of friends to join them, and they were followed to the stage by about two or three dozen folks from the audience.
Ian retreated to the rear on top of the drum kit and watched while playing guitar, seemingly astonished with the turn of events. Eventually the club turned on the sound system with “Hungry Heart” playing and the fans continued to carry on with that as well. It was only the killing of that Bruce tune by sound techs and a switch to Frank Sinatra crooning did the crowd finally end its sing-and-dance-along. Still some audience members remained on stage to be seen and to soak in the dim stage-lights. To these participants, somehow the show came to be about them.
Opening the night was Greenwich’s Eastbound Jesus. These six guys crank out a great blend of rock, bluegrass and country songs that are exquisitely written and delivered with energetic and heartfelt performances.
But let’s cut to the chase. Near the end of their set they did their song “Gonna Go Down,” a truly rollicking tour de force about all that is missing from our lives and why “we should start a revolution.” It is not exactly contemporary country music material when they sing that “today being real don’t get you too far” and they justifiably mock all the “Toby Keith Urbans” in Nashville “who won’t smoke a joint with Willie no more because Willie made a point about the rich man’s war …and that with Music City being what it is today, “the next Johnny Cash will never be found.” The song goes on to rant, “Well, I’ve been turning on the news, and it makes me want to cry, cause it’s always Uncle Sam – he always fucking lies.” Yes, great real true stuff!
Lead vocalist and guitarist Adam Brockway is the focal point of the group, and he has one sweet voice and a great vocal delivery. Banjo player Luke Anderson is especially fierce and crazy in performance. Zack Infante sings and plays guitar and lap steel guitar; Dave Wright plucks great bass lines; Carl Anderson slams the drums; Dylan Robinson contributes beautiful sounds on lead guitar. All the players contribute to the singing as well.
These six guys are tight and confident with distinctive original songs and a great stage presence. Near the end of their 13-song opening set, they debuted a brand new one they had written the day before. Their creative juices are overflowing right now. My advice is to see these guys live any chance you get…