March 7, 2013
It was not a coffeehouse. Or, if it was a coffeehouse, I’m not sure how to square it with coffeehouses of the past. Last Thursday night in the Barn, the audience at the beginning was the same—leisurely sipping from Clinton Pottery mugs at small tables with candles—but the band seemed to imagine a different crowd altogether, intent on throwing a booze-fueled hoedown.
If the solo singer-songwriter on a stool talking about his feelings represents one end of the coffeehouse spectrum, then the riotous Felice Brothers, gulping from Solo cups, surely represents the other end.
After opening slowly with a fantastic, sensitive rendition of “Wonderful Life,” the band hit the ground running with a rowdy version of the traditional tune “Cumberland Gap” and didn’t look back after that. Reflection and stage chatter were not in the cards; they played, they sang and they drank. No song needed an introduction; the context—once established—was enough.
It became clear that the normal, chill coffeehouse atmosphere would not lost: by the middle of the second song, several audience members began dancing in front of the band. By the end of the third song, 30 or 40 people had gathered in the space, transforming it from a staid and seated event into something far more dynamic. Halfway through the concert, the candles on tables were still flickering, but few concertgoers were illuminated by their dim light. Most of the audience was standing—either under the bright stage lights or up along the railing on the Barn’s balcony.
The shift in audience participation, of course, was just fine with the Felice Brothers. They swaggered with the sound of an expert, muscular roadhouse band, but managed to uncannily shift gears back to a waltz-like, Band-inspired sound.
The highlight came earlier in the set, with their mash-up tune “Where’d You Get Your Liquor?” which mixes the traditional tune “Old Man Tucker,” a fiddle line from the melody of Neil Young’s “Love Is A Rose” and a group of lyrics asking the titular question.
Another highlight of the set was hearing how the Felice Brothers set tracks from their recent studio album to music. For despite the deeply weird idiosyncrasy of their 2011 album Celebration, Florida (odd horn charts, a children’s chorus, etc.), live versions of tracks from the album proved far more than amenable to a concert setting. “Honda Civic,” which appears in horn-heavy, Auto-Tune-inflected form on the album, is brushed into a chugging, almost reggae-fied feel. “Fire At The Pageant,” another track off that album, also undergoes a transformation. The album rendition—relying on a sense of precision and clarity—is fuzzed up and stomped on in their live rendition, which bristles with an appropriate urgency.
“Frankie’s Gun,” the group’s best-known song, may have been the expected highlight, but the song fell short. Coming at the end of the set, the band was beginning to visibly fade. But after an hour on the stage, they were drained (and drunk) and everyone was happy; it was easy to forgive them that little clutter at the end.