The Felice Brothers, Islington Assembly Hall

The Felice Brothers, Islington Assembly Hall, London, February 1, 2020

This is North London. But tonight, it might as well be the Catskills in Upstate New York from which the two original members of The Felice Brothers, James and Ian, originate. After a string of different lineups over the years, the latest band members, Jesske Humme on bass and Will Lawrence on drums, join the two brothers. Together they play us through an affecting and lively collection of folk-roots-rock-style compositions. 

There is something endearing about a band of musicians who seem like they came straight from the lumberyard and will be going back home to their porch rather than to a fancy party at a private members’ club. Hardworking, blue-collar people who happen to play music in their spare time, That’s the vibe coming from the stage, and it’s refreshing.

For most of the songs, James sits behind his keyboard while Ian sings lead in the middle of the stage, but James almost steals the show with his appealing honey-voice and whenever he gets up and showcases his very mobile accordion playing.

The most moving moment of the evening is also the shortest song of the night, Nail It On the First Try, sung by James doing double duty on the accordion with Ian on keyboards. The song is a change in gear from the rest of the set’s tunes, and it makes me wish the song was longer. Such simple beauty. Such haunting lyrics: ‘I’ve never been so scared in my life, but then again, I’ve never died, I think I’m gonna nail it on the first try.’

The raucous and lively Penn Station makes for a great showstopper – an ultimate sing-shout-along anthem, the perfect soundscape for those revellers at the late-night bar ignoring the ‘last orders’. Luckily it’s not time for the last orders yet. Ian comes out for an encore, alone at first, singing the excellent Ballad of Lou the Welterweight before the rest of the band join him for the last song, White Limo, which makes for the perfect anarchic, chaotic ending to a wondrous concert.

What a fabulous band The Felice Brothers are. I never got to see them in their original lineup, but I hope there’ll be another chance to see them again somewhere down the gravelly, rocking road.

The Felice Brothers setlist
1. Holy Weight Camp
2. Jack at the Asylum
3. Aerosol Ball
4. Let Me Come Home
5. Wonderful Life
6. Salvation Army Girl
7. Whiskey in My Whiskey
8. The Kid
9. Nail It on the First Try
10. Special Announcement
11. Love Me Tenderly
12. Days of the Years
13. Plunder
14. Silver in the Shadow
15. Rockerfeller Druglaw Blues
16. Lincoln Continental
17. Frankie’s Gun
18. Penn Station
Encore
19. Ballad of Lou the Welterweight
20. White Limo