"Revelations come at you fast behind the Food Emporium." - Jon Bevo
It is impossible to discuss The Felice Brothers without first understanding where they hail from. The Catskill Mountains of New York, located below Albany and above Harriman, are not considered the "North Country", but they are the definition of "Upstate". Despite what you may think, this stretch of land is not just a collection of Thruway Rest Stops separated by 33+ miles each. The Catskills boomed in the 40's, 50's & 60's as a weekend getaway from NYC (Borscht Belt Comedy, anyone?), but that initial excitement eventually declined, as traveling farther distances became easier, more accessible, and less expensive. So, while the classic Catskill resort towns still exist, many been allowed to decompose. Passing through some of these towns can be haunting. Spooky seasonal resort towns aside, it is also an area of beautiful farmland and forests, where both Rednecks and Liberals reside, Blue Collar workers can afford to raise a family (though, the commute can destroy one's soul), artists can isolate and surround themselves with nature, and fringe individuals with Social Anxiety Disorder can find solace. A place where sects of Hasidics are considered landmarks when giving driving directions, "When you see the Jews walking, make a right." An area with ski mountains of convenience-- they're not great, but if you're desperate and don't mind incredibly dangerous ice that makes every hideous fall count-- they'll do. The Catskills contain many specific ingredients, that can leave their strange imprint on creative children who are bored/inspired/brilliant enough to invent the uniquely weird sound that The Felice Brothers have given birth to. Or perhaps they are merely channeling it?
A friend caught The Felice Brothers last Fall at Webster Hall and said it reminded him of doing whippits for the first time behind the Food Emporium when he was 14 years old. And after seeing them for the first time at Brooklyn Bowl last Friday, that all kind of makes sense. Though, I've never liked whippits, but it definitely felt like there could have been Moonshine, lighter fluid, and a Waldbaum's involved.
On a weekend where live music fans had seemingly fled NYC for Phish in Atlantic City, Brooklyn Bowl was PACKED (The Northside Music Festival may or may not have contributed). The crowd was interesting, dedicated, and really fun. They were definitely there for the music, which brought with it an energized vibe. The bar was also giving away free Heinekens for a brief time. This may have been like throwing fuel on the fire for a few folks, but to The Felice Brothers' crowds' credit- I saw more than a few people turn down a free Heineken, to pay for a tasty microbrew instead. We had a lovely dinner during the opening bands, who made no impression on either of us. Mark generously and graciously donated a little bit of his fried chicken skin to me (who says chivalry is dead?) as I hit up my regular Chicken Burger w/ Bacon & Cheddar.
And then the Felice Brothers took the stage and it was like a being sucked into a vaccuum-- WHOOOOOSH: TUNNEL VISION. Having nothing to do with the fine Rum Punch concocted by a really cute bartender, there was a super-charged jolt of energy and the band grabbed Brooklyn Bowl by the balls and yanked it around violently (in an enjoyable way). Cacophonous Irish Ragtime Dylan Pogues Clash Sesame Street Tom Waits Lou Reed David Bowie Pavementesque NOISE. It could have easily been an ether soaked dream sequence in Ye Olde Timey Western, where a bar brawl could break out at any second if you looked at someone the wrong way, so ONLY LOOK AT THE BAND. What lines do you cross? Is it safe to stand here? Why am I drinking sassafras? But everyone seemed to be behaving themselves and the band had 100% full control of the situation. They had hypnotized the audience with this strange Catskills Magic they do so well. Hoodoo? They do. It was quite profound. The Felice Brothers are Snake-Charmers. Witches. BURN THEM!!
I'm not familiar with too many song titles, and have failed miserably in hunting down a setlist, but they played favorites like Run Chicken Run, Fire at the Pageant, Take This Bread, and Whiskey In My Whiskey-- one of the handful of songs to which we were treated to a special singalong by a falling-over-drunk dude screaming at the top of his lungs at the back of our heads until his girlfriend/escort took him away. Fortunately, that was not before we got at least one memorable nugget of wisdom from him. For as the band were explaining that this was only the second time they've ever played at a bowling alley-- the first was at Lebowski-fest in Louisville, KY, our drunk hero belted out a hearty, "FUCK CALIFORNIA!!!"
My ears were ringing when I left, but I'm still sort of glad I didn't put the earplugs in, cuz I don't think I would have experienced every single layer of weird if it were 15db quieter, and I desperately needed to experience every single layer of weird that was going on, in a strange, compulsive way. Did you ever hear the stories about those really popular Chinese restaurants with lines inexplicably stretching for blocks, only to be revealed that they had been sprinkling Opium into their food the whole time? Yeah, that. I want more Felice Brothers in my life.
Stand on your head for 14 minutes and then have someone punch you in the face. This show was fucking fantastic. The Felice Brothers, 6/15/12, Brooklyn Bowl, NYC: 9.5 HUZZAHS!!! FUCK THE CORIOLIS EFFECT!!!
UPDATE: We've got a setlist, folks! Thanks to Sean on Facebook for the link to itrainmonkeys' post on Frankie's Gun Forum, and thanks to itrainmonkeys for the setlist.
All notes by itrainmonkeys. (I just wanted to type "itrainmonkeys" again)
New song (I'm calling "Red Mustang" for now)
Ponzi > Take this Bread
Back in the Dancehalls
Her Eyes Dart 'Round
New Farley Song (lyrics like "dream on what could have been" and "smiling faces, sweet embraces". features Ian on harmonica)
Got What I Need (Ian and James alone)
Fire at the Pageant
Run Chicken Run
New Song (i'm calling "Cumberland Gap" for now. They mentioned it being a bit of a square dance kind of song...lots of dancing on this one)
Loser Take All
Whiskey in my Whiskey
Cus's Catskill Gym