The Attic, The Railway Inn
27th July 2013
Simone Felice – vocals, acoustic guitar, foot stomps
Matthew Green – electric dobro, mandolin, vocals
Mountain John – bass guitar, vocals, foot pedal tambourine
Courtney Love (solo)
New York Times
Dawn Brady’s Son
You and I Belong
Give It All You Got
Don’t Wake The Scarecrow
Hey Bobby Ray
Gimmee All You Got
If You Ever Get Famous
The Devil Is Real
Helpless (Neil Young)
Knocking On Heaven’s Door (Bob Dylan)
One More American Song (solo)
The Morning I Get To Hell (solo)
Your Belly In My Arms
Atlantic City (Springsteen)
Simone Felice continues to evolve. Every time I’ve seen him, and this is the fourth, there are radical differences in arrangements, and in the band. This is the all male trio, more electric, harder-rocking than earlier incarnations. I’ve always stated my opinion on his quality. This is a guy who can cover Neil Young, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen in a set with no fear of comparisons, because he is first and foremost, in the same league as a songwriter himself. As a performer, I think Bruce is the nearest comparison. He is a consummate actor, throwing his all in the performance of every song, acting the lyrics as well as singing them. He also has huge charisma.
Like his Woodstock compatriot, Rick Danko, fifteen years ago, he seems quite happy to go out with various line-ups, not worrying if he has the full conventional instrumentation. Previously he had no bass guitarist. This time, there is a bass guitar, but no drummer, not that a drummer is missed with Simon Felice’s powerful footstomping, and the bass guitarist, Mountain John, also plays foot pedal on a tambourine. They have a definite more electric feel. Also more male and more muscular. The electric dobro solos are psych era / power rock at times, and the bass is a great addition, taking it back to the Duke and King sound at times, but harder. On earlier shows he had a full drum kit, making it a power trio on a couple of numbers, but even without microphones, a drum kit played as hard as he does would have drowned out the small upstairs Attic venue.
He’s often compared to Neil Young, and if you want to follow that comparison, he’s moving out of an Americana “Harvest” era, and moving into more of a “Rust Never Sleeps” era. This was the 25th and last gig of a seven week tour, and they’ve been performing festivals. The presentation is probably festival-oriented, though in the tiny Attic, they pitched volume perfectly for the room, but there was an air of stuff that might have been higher volume at festivals, though there was no way there could have been any more energy. This had all the energy you’d ever need. Flat-out, fantastic, they gave their all. Each set had a major audience participation song, You And I Belong in the first, Hey Bobby Ray in the second. Radio Song always is audience participation, as was Helpless and Knocking on Heaven’s Door.
The ability to move from the moving, narrative ballads … New York Times, Dawn Brady’s Son, Don’t Wake The Scarecrow, Charade, The Devil Is Real, One More American Song, Your Belly In My Arms … to straight rock, or funky or even straight pop material, that should be a major hit (and would have been in the record industry of twenty or thirty years ago) … Shaky, You & I Belong, Radio Song …is what makes these shows unmissable. Let me check the word ‘ballad.’ I don’t mean ‘slow romantic songs.’ Much of what he does is a ballad in the folk song definition of the word: a narrative, a story, often involving tragedy. This is why Bob Dylan called his song The BALLAD of Hollis Brown. Some of Springsteen’s work, like The River and Highway Patrolman are classic ballads in this original sense. Much of Simone Felice’s work is too. Simone Felice draws on his early life as source for material, and explains the background on stage to some of them. Tonight he explained the personal story behind Dawn Brady’s Son. Last time I saw him, he explained the story behind Stormy-Eyed Sarah. He was talking about growing up in a ‘shitty town’ in The Catskills and someone called out (ironically) ‘Like Winchester!’ and his wry smile and raised eyebrows in response said it all (You don’t know the half …). Winchester is the edge of London commuter territory. Wealthy, historic, quaint, sedate cathedral town with one of Britain’s oldest elite public schools. Though having said that, Winchester has its scary underside, as everywhere does.
The footstomping rhythm on stage, which Jon Boden of Bellowhead also does in Spiers and Boden shows (using an amplified footboard in his case) is part of that folk tradition. I’ve been immersing myself in traditional English folk, and the older singers were fond of accenting with a studded boot heel on the stage too. None with quite Simone Felice’s vigour perhaps.
There were four encores, and we were lucky. I had the impression that Matthew Green was ready to come on after the solo One More American Song (a song to rival Paul Simon’s American Tune), but Simone went into the Duke & The King song The Morning I Get To Hell solo too. Matthew joined him for an emotional Your Belly In My Arms, before all three played the final Atlantic City, dedicated to the late James Gandolfini (aka Tony Soprano). I was interested to see Matthew stayed on electric dobro, eschewing the mandolin part that graced The Band’s version of the song. It was the full on rock version too.
If you’re really nitpicking, the only song that suffered was Shaky, which while it gained in power and solos, lost in the funky infectious rhythm department … but it was a radical reworking, just as Van Morrison’s being doing recently with Brown Eyed Girl, and Dylan’s doing with everything. It’s such a good song that it can take playing with and reworking.
Winchester, because it’s so small and intimate, is a very special venue, and it obviously means a lot to him. As he said, a great place to end a tour with friends (rather than a huge audience in the open air). It’s also a crowd that knows every song, and we talked to several people. All had travelled to see him, none were local, and everyone had seen him more than once. His aim next year should be to widen his fan base … after all, we all seem to own every record and get to any gig we can. In other reviews, new songs are mentioned. Good. There were none tonight, and I’m always hoping for the next album.
SEE OTHER REVIEWS ON THIS SITE, plus a “Toppermost” article on Simone Felice at Toppermost’s “artist a day” site..