Preceded by two magnificent shows from the underrated Birmingham-based Nick Drake-like Dan Whitehouse, and David Ford´s Tom Waits-obsessed dark atmospheres, it seemed like New York raconteur Simone Felice would have a tough night surpassing his opening acts. But the founding member of The Felice Brothers and The Duke & The King easily conquered the crowd with a set that included renditions of his previous projects and wisely chosen, American guitar-driven solo tales in this beautiful hall of exquisite décor.
Simone Felice is one of those artists that can analyse tragedy and misfortune with an introspective vision of highway-like American nostalgia. At just twelve he suffered a brain aneurysm and was pronounced clinically dead for several minutes. A couple of years later, convinced that music and New York´s street bohemia was the right path for him, he quit school in order to play in bars, subways and streets with The Felice Brothers; but tragedy overwhelmed him repeatedly. In 2009, he lost his first child due to a miscarriage (which influenced his work with The Duke & The King) and in 2010 he underwent emergency open-heart surgery to correct the slow, degenerative effects of a childhood congenital disorder, that intellectually influenced him to pursue a solo career flooded with witty lyrics and melancholic poetry.
He came to stage visibly proud of coming from The Big Apple with an “I LOVE NY” inscription in his guitar strap; dressed in a cowboy-like brown jacket, and with a bottle of Casillero del Diablo waiting to be emptied. Switching between drums and acoustic guitar, and accompanied by two musicians on a cello and electric guitar, the songwriter and novelist´s show transited between nostalgic intimacy to blues-like solos, drumming madness and a straightforward tribute to southern rock clichés and the American songbook.
What Simone Felice does best is being the voice of memorable, anonymous American anecdotes. “A pervert from Jersey with a thirty-thirty found them girls rehearsing in a ballet school”, he sings in opener ‘New York Times’, followed by another city reference in the melancholic ‘Bye Bye Pallenville’. But there is more rather than just New York nostalgia in Simone´s work. Pieces like ‘Dawn Brady´s Son’, inspired by his best friend´s father who lost his mind after Vietnam; a beautiful acoustic version of a Duke & The King´s lullaby to those who pursue the American dream named ‘If You Ever Get Famous’; an eloquent critic against the love for the trigger in America called ‘Our Lady Of The Gun’; the desert highway-like soundtrack in ‘If You Go To LA’ – enriched by a distorted guitar solo – or another Duke´s ode to Uncle Sam with ‘One More American Song’.
New tracks from his last solo LP ‘Strangers’ segue well into the set. The Dylanesque ‘Molly-O!’ and the sadness in ‘The Gallows’ or ‘Running Through My Head’ (introduced as a song about feeling alone and empty on the planet) are not overshadowed by Simone´s previous work, including ‘Don’t Wake The Scarecrow’ and a bluesy-version of The Felice Brothers´ ‘Shaky’. Near the end, and looking visibly distorted by the effects of wine, an exquisite classic American rock version of “Radio Song” leads into a tribute (with David Ford as a guest) of Neil Young´s ‘Helpless’ and Dylan´s ‘Knockin´ on Heaven´s Door’.
There is no doubt that Simone Felice is a real artist. A man whose tragic but inspiring life in the streets of New York pushed him at an early stage to pursue the satisfactory path of becoming a successful songwriter. The only concern is the lack of variants in his work that – during certain moments – gave the sense of a tedious or flat show. Is it stagnation or coherence in Simone Felice´s oeuvre?
Alejandro De Luna