The Felice Brothers, The Blind Pig, Ann Arbor, MI – 5/11
At first glance the Felice Brothers’ latest release Celebration, Florida, seems to be a bigger chance than it really is with the introduction of synthesizers and a Roland808 sampler in addition the traditional setup the band has been known for. However, personally the Felice Brothers have always seemingly occupied this gap, stuck in this contradiction with an Americana sound rooted in the past but lyrically stuck in the present. How many “classic” folk songs would mention Wal-Mart or Honda Civics? Probably about as many that feature a Roland808. With the introduction of the sampler pad and synths, the newest batch of songs from the quintet are a contradiction of past and present and make the switch up to, as the band mentions on the album, more of a dancehall band. So it’s here that the Felice Brothers have landed, white Erykah Badus, analog girls in a digital world, and just a day after the release of Celebration the quintet came to Ann Arbor’s Blind Pig.
The show opened with droning, whining psychedelia from the first track from Celebration, Florida, “Fire At The Pagent.” The washes of loud vocal layering were amplified and thrust to the forefront as the five piece screamed the song to a close with a swelling hillbilly stomp. Starts and stops fired sharper compared to the album’s version and minor changes would tinge the entire night perfectly.
Next came “Marlboro Man” and a different take on “Love Me Tenderly.” The smooth crooning album track is transformed live into a choppy, stop-starting, honkey tonk thump, however the overlapping vocal lines from keyboardist James Felice, trumpet player Greg Farley and Ian Felice are still just as potent.
“Run Chicken Run” transitioned flawlessly into “Take this Bread” with a segue way that could have fit well into a late nineties Phish second set. Farley joined drummer David Turbeville adding a smattering of tom drum as the band slowly and methodically slipped into “Take This Bread” immersing the crowd back into the folk roots of the tune as they slowly started to sing along.
The recent addition of the sampler pad, which Farley commands on top of an old lit up bass drum, would tinge the entire night, but was at the forefront in the weird “Back In The Dancehalls.” The only tune of the night to be vocally led by bass player Christmas, the eerie tune was accented with sharp e-drums and a thudding bassline from Christmas.
“Big Surprise” came next, fueled by anthemic guitar solos from Ian Felice, as he threw his wiry frame through his old Guild finally kneeling and winding the song down to a calming ending.
After a few sing-a-longs on the crowd requested “Frankie’s Gun” and “Whiskey In My Whiskey” the roughly hour long set would wrap up with the final track on Celebration, “River Jordan.”
“A Wonderful Life” would be the first of a three song encore. Next the band paid tribute to Kurt Cobain as they crashed through a cover of “In Bloom” on the same tiny shit stage that Cobain once called his favorite venue. With the release of Celebration and an accompanying live show with enough soul behind it to sell the new electronically tinged tunes, the Felice Brothers can do no wrong as they keep expanding the voice of modern Americana.