On Tuesday night, there was an unusual item for sale at The Felice Brothers’ merch table: fiddle player Greg Farley’s smashed fiddle. This was not an accidental casualty, but one of sheer onstage exuberance.---
The merch guy explained that Farley—who also plays the drum machine and will accompany drummer Dave Turbeville on occasion—was so into the music at one tour stop that he began banging on the cymbal with his fiddle, thereby exploding nearly a quarter of it off. It was being sold as a silent-auction item and had reached the $250 mark by this stop; the highest bidder at the end of the tour will take it home.
That all-out energy sort of sums up a Felice Brothers concert. Sure, there are sing-along moments and lots of smiles, but the five-piece folk-rock band from the Catskill Mountains puts it all on the line for each and every show.
The set began with the lights out and an instrumental prelude exuding from the speakers. As the five members filtered onstage, each began playing along. As the recording faded, the band solely carried the melody and rhythm. That lead to “Murder by Mistletoe,” which demonstrates—as well as any of songsmith Ian Felice’s tunes—how well the band can pinpoint the sad, twisted and pervasive underbelly of American culture and turn it into something evocative.
The band then began a series of tunes from their most recent release, Celebration, Florida, which included “Fire at the Pageant,” “Honda Civic” (bassist Christmas Clapton took his turn on the mic here) and “Oliver Stone.” On the latter, Ian Felice took the stage by himself, opting to play his brother James’ keyboard rather than his usual six-string, and said that he had never played the song live before; you wouldn’t have known if he hadn’t said so. The new songs feature similar yell-chant lyrics as other, older tunes, but with the inclusion of the drum machine—played by Farley—dropping bass and synthy add-ons, which totally worked for the band live.
If the crowd hadn’t warmed up or begun to sing along yet, everyone was on board when about 100 voices rose up for the chorus of “Take This Bread”: “Take this bread, if you need a friend, 'Cause I'm alright if you're alright.” Two songs later, James led a sing-along with “Whiskey in My Whiskey.”
Other highlights of the nearly two hour set included “Loser Take All,” “Frankie’s Gun,” and “Cus’s Catskill Gym.” When the band played their slower ballads, it was totally captivating, and when they’d play with fervent energy it was contagious. They encored with “White Limo” and what James said was a song from the early 20th century, “Pagan Hole.”