The Felice Brothers and The Diamond Doves @ Club Helsinki

The last Felice Brothers show I saw, about two years ago, was a disappointing one for me. Simone had just recently left the band and while I was not upset by that, I was saddened that the band seemed to be disintegrating. The remaining brothers and friends were taking strange turns—like adding rapping and Michael Jackson covers—focusing more on pop and uninspired rock playing rather than what I had always admired them for, such as their ability to uniquely blend roots, blues, and rock, doing so in an unmistakably homegrown New York way. Let me not be misunderstood: it was never their going electric that bothered me. Rather, it was the fact that they seemed to rely more on amplification to rock the crowd than on musicianship that was what I disliked. The last time I saw The Felice Brothers their show was a chaotic frenzy and I didn’t think I would go to see them again after that. While the band had an ever-increasing number of fans and continued to be booked at esteemed festivals and venues, the direction the music was taking just wasn’t my taste. With all that in mind, when I first saw that The Felice Brothers would be playing at one of my favorite venues, Club Helsinki, in the town where both James and Ian were born and across the river from where Ian grew up, I was interested in going to the show but still not sure whether I would or not. Curiosity got the better of me, however, and so I did go. This time, things were quite different.

More than halved in size since I saw the band open for AA Bondy at the Bearsville Theater back in October, the Diamond Doves opened for The Felice Brothers at the Club Helsinki show. The Diamond Doves boast an impressive array of rotating musicians, but opening for The Felice Brothers on the first half of their current tour (Helsinki being the second in a string of shows) are the founding members and constants in the band: Wyndham Boylan-Garnett, Brigham Brough, and Nick Kinsey. The three musicians are perhaps better known for having been Elvis Perkins’ backing band, yet they deserve recognition outside of that title. The Diamond Doves’ have a terrific sound that includes but is in no way limited to a medley of folk rock, funk, blues, and pop. Formed less than a year ago, the band has undeniable character and I really look forward to hearing more from them. Although the Diamond Doves don’t have a record out yet, you can hear the musicians on assorted albums by other musicians, including Elvis Perkins in Dearland, AA Bondy, and some of The Felice Brothers’ prior releases (Nick also plays drums on a track from their upcoming album).

Although I hadn’t seen The Felice Brothers live in two years I had nonetheless kept up with their new music, and several of the songs they played at the Helsinki show had a new spin on them. The musicians are drawing from increasingly offbeat and somewhat obscure sources as inspiration, finding a way to incorporate those influences without compromising their own distinct sound, and the results are impressive. At the show the band also played some of their “classics” (can we call them classics yet?) such as “Hey Hey Revolver,” “Frankie’s Gun,” a beautiful rendition of the rarely performed “Got What I Need,” and a rousing sing-along of “Whiskey In My Whiskey.” Ian also played solo on a new song he wrote just a few weeks ago for his mom who was at the show, called “Mom.” Speaking of new music, The Felice Brothers have a new release coming out on Fat Possum records on May 10th, and if the early write-ups and what I heard at Club Helsinki are any indication of how the album is, I am very excited to hear the songs and arrangements on it.

Despite their increasingly contemporary—and even progressive—sound, The Felice Brothers are perhaps now more than ever a throwback to the untrained but not unskilled musicians of times past. At the show at Club Helsinki the musicians played with the same spirit I remember them having—a spirit that was missing for a time—and their technique was truly the best I have ever heard it. There was no focusing on frenzy rather than music at this gig, and The Felice Brothers have really come into their own.  The musicians finally seem completely at ease on stage and have found much-needed balance, now having insight into the difference between authentically energetic antics and theatrics. That said, while they have toned it down a little these boys still now how to cause a ruckus, something I would never want them to change or lose.

Although my opinion in regards to the last show I attended stands, I beg your pardon Felice Brothers—I also said I didn’t think I would ever go to see the band again and I’m eating my words now. You’ve never sounded better.

Videos from the show:

She’s Got, You’re Not The One That I Love

Wonderful Life, The Big Surprise, White Limo, Ponzi, Mom, Whiskey In My Whiskey, Goddamn You, Jim

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