Simone Felice + Diana DeMuth, The Slaughtered Lamb, London, 15th January 2020

The Slaughtered Lamb is a tiny space for a headliner as big as Simone Felice – it’s a basement room below a pub with maybe a capacity of a hundred, or a hundred and fifty at a push, set up with tables, stools, side benches and a standing area behind all of these. No surprise then that it was already near full for support Diane DeMuth, whose new album ‘Rose of Nantucket‘ was produced by Simone Felice. DeMuth is a leather jacketed troubadour with a powerful voice. Her set found its ground with what were – more or less – love songs, but really hit its stride with the songs that had that Felice influence.

A song like ‘Rose of Nantucket‘, DeMuth’s new single shows that some of that outlook has rubbed off on her – it takes a simple premise of lovers separated by their own anxieties and the cruel hand of fate “if you get lost in the howling rain” she sang with emotion “if some fucker changed that sign post to lead you astray / and when all of your failures and all of your fears keep you running through the nighttime” and adds in a twist of redemption “just call on me, Lover.” And last single ‘Hotel Song‘ dwelt on the madness of the touring life, opening slow before picking up the pace as Diana DeMuth declares the self-revelatory “we want all of the glory and none of the pain”. The album wasn’t available yet on the merch’ stand – but when it is out it sounds as if it’ll be worth a listen.

Simone Felice took the stage – a figure exuding a relaxed vibe, welcoming us to this Satanic seance – a reference to the Slaughtered Lamb’s neon pentangle sign. This happy-jokey vibe was at odds with the seriousness of the music from the start – ‘War Movie‘ is an exercise in depression and a dour outlook, an easy slide into Felice’s world view. ‘Courtney Love‘ plays with images of fame and the hollowness of the celebrity life: “what’s the name inside your latest dress” Felice asks, before commenting “You got a bad way to love”. ‘One More American Song‘ carried forward the mood of ‘War Movie‘, with Felice taking a slow song really slow – his eyes closed, his head flicking around as he sang. The song has a cut and change perspective, and at times Felice seemed to be inhaling the words anew, as if they were just coming to him for the first time. It made for a riveting presentation of these dramatic and complex songs – often shot through with a simple idea such as here where Simone Felice proffers a kind of utopia: “there’s a place I heard about once / it’s a place called Union Street / it’s a place on high a place where we can all be one – it sounded pretty good to me.” There’s a seriousness here that allows Felice to switch from singer to Beat Poet – a move which singularly underscores that all that he does is poetry. There are shared images of scarecrows – Felice himself, perhaps – and wild beasts which will crop up again in song, but really what’s the difference and why should there even be a difference?

At times reaching back further than his solo releases to bring in songs from his recordings in The Felice Brothers meant that there were outings for songs like the epic ‘Don’t Wake the Scarecrow‘ with its rich blend of lowlife observation, cinemagraphic allusion with Tin Men walking around without hearts and brainless scarecrows carrying on in their heroin habits. Midway through the song he came to a halt – so that we could have the line about a C-note explained to us – and then picked up without a beat out of place.

But this was not a gig of good song, applause, a few breezy words and then repeat. Felice expounded on his pleasure to be in such a cool club – he’d heard it was a cool club and it was, in fact, a cool club. By extension we were all cool for being there. He mentioned how money and fame had allowed him to invest in good clothes and indulge his taste for fine and rare gins, one such gin with some tonic would, it turned out, be welcome on the stage if it could be procured from the bar. He felt the Satanic seance was going well, he mused on what song he should play next and he suggested a couple of times that Diana DeMuth should join him on stage to help out on the vocals – which she did to fine effect. He stood up, he looked around, he fiddled with his guitar and joked with the audience about putting away their ‘phones, confessing he was as bad with them as anyone but seeing them glowing before him would give him an aneurysm. Felice was distracted, or perhaps more accurately  increasingly exhibiting that relaxed vibe, as he mused on the strange fate that saw him now a “folk-rock God doing demonic seances in a club in a basement in London”. It interfered with the music not a jot.

The Duke & The King’s ‘The Morning I get to Hell‘ became a sing-a-long, a call out for ‘New York Times‘ was met with the challenge to provide the first line. And if that sounds as if Felice didn’t want to sing it then nothing could be further from the truth as the sensitive performance of the song was a highlight amongst a night of highlights. ‘Bye Bye Palenville‘ carried a brief near-optimistic mood into the set closer and crowd pleaser ‘If You ever get Famous‘.

The final encore drew in the contribution of an earlier band to the song-cycle of depressed nostalgic reflection, a song that emerged slowly into the consciousness as Simone Felice strummed away before the first few lyrics were sung, a smoothly cracked – “So, so you think you can tell?” Just voice and acoustic guitar for a devastating version of ‘Wish You Were Here‘. Somehow it seemed the perfect, the only possible, conclusion to a memorable evening.

Author: Jonathan Aird

Sure, I could climb high in a tree, or go to Skye on my holiday. I could be happy. All I really want is the excitement of first hearing The Byrds, the amazement of decades of Dylan's music, or the thrill of seeing a band like The Long Ryders live. That's not much to ask, is it?

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