Live Review: The Felice Brothers + Sister Lucy, Islington Assembly Halls, London – 2nd July 2022

Normally we aim to have live reviews online within a week of a gig but, stuff happens, and we do love The Felice Brothers. So, read on…

Support for The Felice Brothers tonight came from Sister Lucy. It’s the moniker for Abi Sinclair who originally hails from Devon, but is now based in South-East London. She describes her music as: “Country-grunge headbangers that you can scream-sing along to.” Sister Lucy was accompanied on guitar by Sona Koloyan, who also produced the animated video for her single ‘Best At Being Sad‘. She delivered an eight song set, which negotiated insecurity, anger and sadness. The best songs were those where Koloyan accompanied her playing slide rather than conventional guitar.

After a 30 minute break The Felice Brothers duly arrived on stage. With a plethora of albums and EPs released over the past 16 years, The Felice Brothers had no shortage of quality material to draw upon. Last year’s superb ‘Dreams To Dust’ album formed a third of tonight’s repertoire. It’s a record which challenges the listener to contemplate the state of the environment, what it is to be human, and death. Their set commenced with the opening song from “Dreams To Dust“, ‘Jazz On The Autobahn’. It does a good job of reflecting modern anxiety re the state of the world, which to many people seems to make less and less sense every day. The song’s focus is two people ruminating on whether the apocalypse “will sound like jazz on the autobahn.” Despite the images of “heads of state hyperventilating in clouds of methane,” “tornados with human eyes” and “chemical rain,” somehow there’s a reassuring warmth to it.

James Felice kicked off ‘Valium’ with some beautiful piano. It’s a song about being adrift on tour, contrasting the Hollywood version of the American West being shown on a motel’s television screen with reality. Maybe John Wayne, Marilyn Monroe and Annie Oakley were, as Ian Felice sings, “valium for the national conscious,” and that many people’s happiness is just as “touch-and-go” as the motel’s TV’s dodgy reception of HBO.

The Felice Brothers live July 2022
Photo © Justin Woodward

It was not all self-reflection and sombre tunes though. James and Ian Felice appear to be very different characters, with Ian relatively shy and withdrawn, and James much more outgoing; so it was apt that half way through the set James launched into ‘Whiskey In My Whiskey’ leading the crowd through a raucous sing-along. James joked that the band are used to playing “shitty bars” where the crowd are near enough to hand them drinks, which wasn’t the case at the Assembly Halls. After he had “guilt tripped” the audience, beers were duly delivered over the barrier to the stage for the band’s refreshment.

The band’s rhythm section comprised Jesske Hume on bass and Will Laurence on drums who provided a technically tight foundation to Ian on guitar and James, who alternated between keyboards and accordion. Hume and Laurence also complemented the brothers with their excellent, harmonious backing vocals. The last song of the set was the tongue in cheek ‘To-Do List’ which had Ian Felice recounting a rather unlikely roll call of tasks that he needs to undertake, which included: “Buying a spinach coloured dinner jacket,”Falling into an orchestra pit” and “Discovering a miracle drug.” The band departed the stage leaving the crowd wondering how many of these Ian Felice has actually ticked off his bucket list.

After a brief pause the band came back for a two song encore which started with fans’ favourite, ‘Frankie’s Gun!’ and ended with ‘Wonderful Life’. It looked like that was it for the evening until the noisy crowd encouraged the band back on stage to run through ‘Rockefeller Druglaw Blues’, a tale of man who deals drugs to earn enough money to buy his mother’s medicine and ends up in prison: “Fifteen grams of heroin, An ounce of speed, Fifteen years to life, Rockefeller, that’s a long old time.” And that really was it, despite the downbeat ending, there was a warmth, wit and honesty to The Felice Brothers. Long may they run.

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