Live: The Felice Brothers Do Guns, Vagrants, Wild Chickens at Webster Hall
"This song's about baseball..." Only three tunes into their Friday set, and the Felice Brothes cut straight to "Cooperstown," the nearly seven-minute ballad about an 18 year old Ty Cobb's first ever at-bat. The band's ramshackle slow numbers probably sound better live from a meadow near their Catskill mountain home (Webster's PA was built for volume, not nuance). But de facto frontman Ian Felice certainly knows his Americana, hollering about Jesse James and Doris Day, transporting depression-era lyricism into this century with ease: "With a toothbrush and a comb/Five dollars and a dead cell phone, oh Lord/No photo ID/No past to torture me." James Felice claims to have grown up on Skip James and Mississippi John Hurt records; the rest of his band seems more into dive bar country music than delta blues, but it's clear they've listened to more than the obvious Dylan and the Band tapes. For anyone drowsy from Fleet Foxes' "How Dope is this Pine Cone" a cappellas and Bon Iver's anemic, heartbroken blathering, a Mark Twain reference like "Yonder is the Clock," is a bucket of ice water to the face.
"This song's about the influenza..." The fast tunes (usually about guns, vagrants, wild chickens, or some combination of these) were less literate but a lot more fun. The players pushed as close to the crowd as possible; everyone sang but Christmas, the gangly bassist, and all took turns balancing precariously on the bass drum. The band passed around whiskey for "Whiskey in my Whiskey," which prompted further reckless handling of the percussion-- During the encore, fiddler Farley murdered the already chipped crash cymbal with a washboard and dove headfirst into the kit.
"This song's about being generous to your neighbors..." Only three Brothers are named Felice, but as all six prepared to leave the stage, James grabbed everyone by the shirt for a final curtain call. He pledged to the audience, "You're all like family," and, all at once, they took a bow.
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