The Felice Brother – First Unitarian Church Chapel, Philadelphia Pa.

As I approached the Chapel of the First Unitarian Church on Friday night at 10PM, I was greeted by a line spilling out the door. A note affixed to one of the doors apologized that both The Felice Brothers‘ show would be starting an hour later than planned (originally set for 7:30PM and 10PM) and suggested that ticket holders make their way to the Rittenhouse Square, a lovely little park in Center City Philadelphia, to pass the time should they not wish to wait at the venue. Well, it seemed that no one dared get out of the line to venture to the park. Instead, everyone strained to hear the rowdy first set that upstate New York natives were performing.

Both shows had been sold out weeks ahead of time, even with Mike Doughty, Saul Williams, and OK Go in town the same night, in addition to the city concurrently hosting its annual film festival. As I sat in the third pew from the front in the First Unitarian Church’s tiny Chapel, I realized that it was no mistake that both shows had sold out so quickly. The show was one of the most intimate I’ve ever been, yet The Felice Brothers could have easily filled an arena with their huge sound and energetic live show.

The fivesome, three of whom are actually brothers, was set up on the alter surrounded by amps, drums, a guitar, bass guitar violin, accordion, and washboard. The band immediately displayed its sense of humor when lead vocalist and guitarist James Felice stepped up to the microphone and greeted the audience with, “Welcome to midnight mass!” Drummer, vocalist and sometimes guitar Simone Felice, who bares a striking resemblance to Kevin Federline, then demanded, “Please turn these lights down or I’m gonna take my pants off in church!” The Felice Brothers, thanks to their energy and humor, had the audience eating out of their palms even before they began playing.

James introduced the set with “a song about having a drunk wife. If you snuck your flask into church, raise it up!” Much to the surprise of the band, three gray-haired men in the second row raised up cans of beer before taking healthy swigs, as the rest of the crowd laughed at the sight. The wall of sound that then came forth from the chapel’s alter was almost unexpected in such a tiny room, as The Felice Brothers began to play, lyrically asking the question, “Where’d you get your liquor?”

For “Rockefeller Druglaw Blues,” non-brother Greg Farley put away his washboard in favor of the violin for the slower, down-trodden tune as Ian Felice sang, “I tried to keep my job at the dollar store / I found out my mama got sick / And a dollar wasn’t enough no more.” Later, over James Felice pounding away on his accordion, Ian sang, “15 grams of heroin, an ounce of speed / 15 years to life / Oh, Rockefeller / That’s a long time.”

In keeping with the epic tales of bygone figures, The Felice Brothers sang about the murder of 1930s cabaret singer Ruby Mae and later about the death of and old New York boxer in which Ian, James, and Farley all sing in a three-part harmony. Not all songs revolved around the morbidity of death. The Felice Brothers proved that they knew how to throw down as they jumped up on the amps, alter, and drums, as Farley tore the hell out of his washboard, pounding away on sunny songs such as “Whiskey In My Whiskey,” “Send Me An Angel Now,” and what I’d earmark for a single, “Radio Song.”

A little over halfway into their set, Simone Felice announced, “I have to go pee in the alleyway.” The crowd laughed, but Simone booked it down the aisle as the rest of the band played on without their drummer. Two minutes later, Simone strolled back in and took his spot at the drum kit as if nothing had happened, leaving the audience visibly amused. At the end of the song he’d walked back in on, Simone assured the fans, “You guys are all beautiful!” At the set’s end, Ian thanked the audience “for tolerating our dirtbaggery” as he and his band mates scattered, leaving the crowd clapping wildly for an encore.

As the five came back to the alter and picked up their instruments, Ian smiled before asking, “You guys won’t let us go home yet?” to which the crowd responded with a resounding “NO!” The encore began with “Mercy.” The Felice Brothers were joined by a longtime friend to perform the old version of “Mercy” and Simone jumped up on pew, asking, “Can I do it like Neil Diamond?” and placing one foot atop the back of the pew, hunching over and putting one elbow on his elevated knee singing, “Baby, your eyes are like a pale blue Chrysler / So drive us to the sun.” Again amusing the rapt audience, Simone jumped down from the pew and began banging on the drum kit’s cymbals with a tambourine, in one of the most interesting displays of percussion playing I’ve ever seen.

Before The Felice Brothers launched into their final song, they demanded the audience stand up and dance and clap while the band played. The band’s energy was nothing short of infectious and the crowd happily complied with The Felice Brothers’ request. Even in their second set of the night, The Felice Brothers weren’t wanting for energy and they ensured that every single member of the audience had a great fucking time.

See The Felice Brothers perform live at the first opportunity. You won’t be disappointed.

Tour Dates:
Apr 24 – CASTAWAY’S/Ithaca, New York
Apr 26 – THE BEARSVILLE THEATER/Woodstock, New York
May 24 – THE CLUNY/Newcastle, Northeast
May 25 – KING TUTS/Glasgow, Scotland
May 26 – HIFI CLUB/Leeds, Northwest
May 27 – NIGHT & DAY/Manchester, Northeast
May 28 – SUGAR CLUB/Dublin, Dublin
May 29 – 100 CLUB/London, London and South East (SOLD OUT!)
May 30 – PRIMAVERA FESTIVAL/Barcelona, Barcelona
Jun 01 – MOUNTAIN JAM/Hunter, New York
Jun 09 – RAM’S HEAD/Annapolis, Maryland
Jun 10 – KENNEDY CENTER, MILLENNIUM STAGE/Washington, DC
Jun 12 – BONNAROO/Manchester, Tennessee
Jun 22 – CLEARWATER FESTIVAL-GREAT HUDSON RIVER REVIVAL/Croton-On-Hudson, New York
Aug 09 – ALL POINTS WEST MUSIC AND ART FESTIVAL/New York
Aug 15-17 – PHILADELPHIA FOLK FESTIVAL/Philadelphia
Aug 23 – OUTSIDE LANDS MUSIC & ARTS FESTIVAL/San Francisco, California

The Felice Brothers: website | myspace
Team Love Records: website | myspace

[where: 2125 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103]

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