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Published: 2011/11/28
by Sheryl Hunter

The Felice Brothers, Pearl Street, Northampton, MA – 11/17

You have got to love a group that focuses on guns, booze, and death to the extent that the Felice Brothers do. The Catskills New York-based outfit, who are quickly becoming stars on the ever burgeoning Americana scene, brought their obsessions to the Pearl Street nightclub in Northampton, Mass. Saturday night for an almost two-hour rowdy show filled with dour lyrics wrapped in upbeat music.

The band’s popularity has been built on two excellent albums, 2008’s “The Felice Brothers and the recent “Yonder is the Clock,” but it is their boozy, good time live shows that have put them on the national musical map.

The band started off with an old traditional tune “Memphis Flu,” which featured the raspy vocals of Ian Felice, the wheezing accordion of his brother James and the frantic fiddle playing of Greg Farley. All three shared vocals on this tune about the influenza epidemic of 1929 and they sounded as rough and ragged as they looked.

By the third song, the rousing “Run Chicken Run,” the band reached a peak level of energy that most bands save for their encores. Farley, who also plays washboard, is the resident wild man of the group, a nonstop blur of motion who would occasionally slam his washboard against the drummer’s cymbals.

The band’s only other actual brother, drummer Simone, is sitting this tour out and was replaced by Jeremy Backofen, who with bassist Christmas Clapton provided the muscle these songs need.

James Felice introduced crowd favorite “Whiskey In My Whiskey” by saying “This is a song about getting drunk and killing your wife,” and later took to the keyboards for the ballad “The Big Surprise.” From the gospel-tinged “Take this Bread” to the slurred vocals of “Where’d You Get the Liquor?” watching the Felice Brothers is like watching a late night jam session where musicians are making music for the sure joy of it .

On the country-rock tune “Penn Station,” Ian Felice sounded eerily like a young Bob Dylan. Indeed, the group has often been compared with The Band, who famously backed Dylan some 40 years ago, but the Felice Brothers might be more accurately described as rural rockers raised on a diet of punk and gothic Southern literature.

The group closed with fan favorite “Frankie’s Gun!” and then returned for a four-song encore that ended with “Glory Glory,” the Felice Brothers tribute to the Carter Familys’ “Can the Circle be Unbroken.”

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