Simone Felice Group
Chapel Arts Centre
14 September 2012
Simone Felice – vocals, guitar, percussive foot stomping
Simi Stone – vocals, violin
Matthew Boulter- guitar, mandolin, lap guitar, vocals
Support set: Matthew Boulter
(I’m pretty sure about the songs, but not the running order … I didn’t take notes. I have a nagging feeling I might have missed one, probably right after Radio Song, so corrections welcome)
Gimme All You Got
New York Times
Summer Morning Rain
Don’t Wake The Scarecrow
You And I Belong
All When We Were Young
The Devil Is Real
Wild Mountain Thyme
If You Ever Get Famous
I Shall Be Released
This is the third show in eighteen months. I’ve seen Simone Felice solo, The Simone Felice Band and now The Simone Felice Group, and also downloaded Simone Felice and Friends. Each reflects different arrangements of musicians and songs are different with each. It’s hard to think any could be better than they are, just different. I’ve also seen the first gig of a tour every time, which makes sense with proximity to Heathrow. The venue said they had flown in that morning.
As we walked in, I bought the new New York Times EP. I think I was second to do so. The guy before me was told he had just become the first person to buy it. They were also playing Bob Dylan’s Dusquene Whistle over the sound system, a bold choice. Narrow Way was a bit disconcerting because the riff is the same as my blues iPhone ringtone, but after checking it a couple of times I relaxed.
The support set was British songwriter / multi-instrumentalist, Matthew Boulter, also in The Lucky Strikes. Matthew has just released an album as The Whispering Pines, not the last Richard Manuel / Band reference in the evening. See the linked interview.
The surprise to me, having seen Matthew in Winchester in April (when he sang but didn’t speak), is that he’s British. He met Simone Felice while playing a support set in Cardiff two years ago, and got invited right on stage to join him on lap steel. The Whispering Pines album was on sale at Bath, and he did a highly impressive seven song set. I didn’t catch all the titles, but I assume several were from his band, The Lucky Strikes (described as from The Thames Delta of Southend-On-Sea). Only Curse You, John was announced as from the new album. He has a beautiful voice. The album has full backing, and I always feel sorry for guys in the support set presenting their new work in stripped down versions, but that’s the way it has to be. The Lucky Strikes note their influences on their site as The Band and Ennio Morricone. I collect The Band. My son collects Ennio Morricone. I’m going to get their albums!
Simone Felice immediately fills the room with his personality and charisma. He is a great performer, and the chemisty of having Simi Stone on vocals is of major importance. The trio all contrast, and the male/ female magnetism is powerful. Felice is Mercurial, and you sense that he needs two people who can watch closely as events unfold and go in the directions he takes. They have a lot of fun onstage. Simone really gets into every song in a theatrical way, and the interaction with Simi is part of that.
He opened with Gimmee All You Got, moving on to New York Times. Last time in Winchester, I found Simi’s handclaps stunning. This time it was Simone’s percussive boots on the resonant stage. Through the show, boot stomping became another full instrument. The pace upped with a rousing Summer Morning Rain. When you’re transfixed, you don’t scribble set lists, but I got that order right. After that I’m not sure of the order they appeared in.
The two essential Felice Brothers standards were present and correct. Don’t Wake The Scarecrow always chills, and the addition of Simi’s subtle backing vocals made it even more so. Radio Song was at the end of the main set and had everybody moving … I dislike all-standing venues, but if you’re listening to something as infectious as Radio Song, it makes sense to want to move your feet.
The last album gave us You And I Belong (another rousing footstomper) and Charade. The latter was introduced by a story about his Dad’s truck being repossessed by the sheriff just a few days ago, and he urged us to complain to Pine Bush sheriff’s office. Hey, a lot of Band site readers live near there. Do it! Simone excels at between songs stuff, and he put down the guitar, Simi left the stage, and he had us laughing with accounts of billboards in the USA. Then he gave us a poem he wrote on a trip to Tennessee. A wonderful poem too, the notes he held looked handwritten.
Two songs in succession were from the Live At A Lonely Place vinyl LP (and four others in the set appear in solo versions on it). All When We Were Young was introduced as inspired by 9/11. The Devil is Real was stunning. No, everything was stunning, but The Devil Is Real, perhaps as less familiar, had everyone at 100% attention.
There were five encores. The small band allows spontaneity, and he whispered Wild Mountain Thyme to both Simi and Matthew. This also appears on Live From A Lonely Place, but he said he had just recorded it for a Byrds tribute cover disc, though he said his version owed more to Sandy Denny (* Later note: it’s on the UNCUT November 2012 covermount disc, Younger Than Yesterday and is the recording from Live From A Lonely Place so ‘contributed’ rather than ‘recorded’). So many people have done it, but this came across as fresh and strong. This is the point where people started calling out requests, Shaky being the favourite, and it came next. It sounds different every time. Some were calling out “Anything!” which is very much my sentiment with Simone Felice.
So next up was a surprise. There are songs where comparing versions is fun, instructive, but it’s only Sophie’s Choice territory for which is the best version. Respect? Otis or Aretha? Love Hurts? The Everly Brothers or Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris? With God On Our Side? Bob Dylan or The Neville Brothers? So this one’s a major one for me. Atlantic City. Bruce Springsteen, who wrote it, or The Band (lead vocal Levon Helm) from their 90’s reunion album, Jericho? Simone Felice just made it harder. Now I have three versions in the category. Because it was live and right in front of me, this morning it has to be the most exciting version I heard. But I felt the same seeing The Band playing it. As Simone Felice is from the Woodstock area, and has spoken movingly about Levon Helm in a live show on YouTube, I’ll assume it’s that Band version that inspired him to do it. He takes the lyric far harder than either Springsteen or Levon Helm AND he has Matthew Boulter to add mandolin. The other thing is that the sound was so full … and all we had was guitar, mandolin and violin. The impression was a big band playing it. Is that sheer force of charisma?
More calls for requests. It dawned that here in Bath, we were about 200 yards from Bath’s own Union Street, and people were calling out for it. Instead we got If You Ever Get Famous. If anything, the evening had been light on The Duke & The King material (well, no bass or drums) so it was welcome.
The final encore gave that third Band reference. I Shall Be Released, the original B-side of The Weight. In late 1968, every morning I had coffee and read the free papers in the Student Union at Hull, and every morning I put a shilling in the juke box for three tracks. The Weight, White Rabbit, I Shall Be Released. You had to put a song between an A side and a B side or the mechanism screwed up. So my short morning session always ended with I Shall Be Released; the same song that closed The Last Waltz concert. The song requires an extraordinary voice, Richard Manuel on the original. Here the lead was taken unaccompanied by Simi Stone, and she has just that extraordinary signature it-couldn’t-be-anyone-else voice. Transcendently beautiful. Then Simone comes in for the chorus and walked in front of the mics, singing it straight into the hall for audience singalong (it wouldn’t work at the Albert Hall), and everyone sang along. Who can compare versions over that amount of time? I heard Richard Manuel sing it in 1974, which was pure magic. This was pure magic.
Usually after hearing a great concert, I don’t listen to the artist on the way home. After this, we had a near two hour drive through the winding country roads over the Dorset Hills, all to the new EP (essential purchase if you go to a gig), then Live From A Lonely Place (no, I don’t have vinyl in the car … to the iPod).
For a Simone Felice article and Top Ten, follow this link to the Toppermost website.