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Concert Review: The Felice Brothers

New York-based group the Felice Brothers performed its brand of folksy rock ‘n’ roll at the Roxy Theatre Wednesday night.
(Courtesy of Butch Hogan)

By Brendan Hornbostel

Oct. 2, 2014 10:53 p.m.

Judging a band such as the Felice Brothers off the group’s appearance can be misleading.

Lead singer and guitarist Ian Felice, dressed in an oversized T-shirt with long hair dripping over his face, and bassist Josh “Christmas Clapton” Rawson, with eye glasses and a slim build, look like they belong in a ’90s grunge band. Accordionist and keyboardist James Felice and fiddler Greg Farley contribute to the appearance of a bluegrass group. And Drummer David Estabrook, sporting a trucker hat, looks like a country musician.

But the music played by this New York-based folk rock group on Wednesday night at the Roxy Theatre on Sunset Boulevard sounded nothing like the musicians appeared. Taking the stage after a powerful performance from the opening act, folk band Spirit Family Revival, the Felice Brothers began with a crescendoing buzz as the band opened with “Meadow of a Dream” from the group’s 10th studio album, “Favorite Waitress.”

Farley’s fiddle gained momentum as Ian Felice joined with drummer Estabrook to create a walking groove, which continued throughout the song.

Soon after the set began, the voice of Ian Felice – rich with a folk timbre that seemed to marry the honesty of Bob Dylan and the sustained melodies of Pete Seeger – floated over the crowd.

“Oh, I’ll be Butch Cassidy/ And you can be the Sundance Kid,” Ian Felice crooned at the end of the first song.

Soon, the band picked up its folk twang for a taste of rock ‘n’ roll with “Whiskey In My Whiskey,” off the band’s 2008 eponymous major label debut. James Felice took the lead mic for this song, swinging back and forth with the accordion, as the whole band stomped around the stage. Rawson and Ian Felice picked up the tempo of the recorded version of the song to turn a country folk song into an outright rock jam. While James Felice’s vocals were at times drowned out by the ensuing cacophony, neither the band nor the audience seemed to mind.

One of the strongest displays of the band’s full potential came with the song “Marie” from 2010’s “Mix Tape.” James Felice pounded on his keyboard as the song began like any other folk rock tune from the band. But then Farley, instead of jamming along on his fiddle, approached the mic to sing his second verse before the band broke into a thundering chorus. The separate voices, taking turns through the verses – with even Rawson adding a few bars – collided into harmonious shouting during the chorus.

With the performance of “Silver In the Shadow” off of the newly released “Favorite Waitress,” James Felice brought silence to a noisy crowd. Sitting alone onstage and playing the piano as he sang, James Felice demonstrated just how many dynamics the band could achieve. Beginning as a slow, macabre folk song, “Silver In the Shadow” soon became an alternative rock centerpiece, with Ian Felice performing a crunchy, extended guitar solo as he picked his electric guitar like a banjo, before falling back down into a memorable power ballad.

As the band skipped around its discography, it kept finding itself playing crowd-favorites from its 2008 self-titled release, including “Take This Bread,” “Love Me Tenderly” and “Frankie’s Gun!”

The Felice Brothers finished off a night of strong folk rock with “Sail Away Ladies” from its 2012 album “God Bless You, Amigo.” Combining voices for one last melodious roar, the band left the crowd singing along to its final a cappella chorus, delivering a powerful folk finish to the night’s performance.

Brendan Hornbostel

Email Hornbostel at [email protected].

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