thu 26/11/2020

Simone Felice, Electric Circus, Edinburgh | reviews, news & interviews

Simone Felice, Electric Circus, Edinburgh

Simone Felice, Electric Circus, Edinburgh

Technical gremlins fail to sabotage a stirring show by the former Felice Brother

Simone Felice: "capturing whispers"

Nothing tests an artist’s mettle more severely than having to negotiate a full-blown case of tech-horror. Half way through the third number last night, a particularly sweet version of “Summer Morning Rain“, an ear-scorching sonic car crash brought everything skidding to a decidedly ugly halt. Simone Felice leapt from his chair like a scalded cat and muttered something about lawyers. For a moment I thought he was actually going to scarper. And it had all started so well.

Nothing tests an artist’s mettle more severely than having to negotiate a full-blown case of tech-horror. Half way through the third number last night, a particularly sweet version of “Summer Morning Rain“, an ear-scorching sonic car crash brought everything skidding to a decidedly ugly halt. Simone Felice leapt from his chair like a scalded cat and muttered something about lawyers. For a moment I thought he was actually going to scarper. And it had all started so well.

Formerly of The Felice Brothers and The Duke & The King, on record Felice is in the process of shedding musical skins, paring his work down to basic principles. His fine new album, his first under his own name, is intimate and earthy, built on hushed organ, warm acoustic guitar and his intense, wounded voice, which carries strong echoes of prime-period Cat Stevens and James Taylor. 

These were stirring hymns to being alive in the moment, intent on driving bad spirits away

Backed by a fine four-piece band (who recalled The Band), bringing pedal steel, bass, fiddle, keyboards, mandolin, drums and keening three-part harmony into the mix, on stage he presented a more varied and muscular proposition. Opener “New York Times”, a sparse piano ballad on the album, became a brooding rocker, fleshed out with chain-gang stomps and sinister hand-claps. “Shaky” - a song about carrying the psychological wounds of war rather than a tribute to the Welsh Elvis - was clipped countrified funk, raw and rambunctious. 

Then came that shuddering technical meltdown, and everything took a while to recover. With the mandolin having to carry into the room unamplified, the band dropped their volume. The gathering momentum was stemmed, and was further hindered by some awkward stagecraft: at one point Felice took a full five minutes to tune up while the band stared at their shoes; he often muttered into the microphone rather than projected. 

His earnestness sometimes felt a little heavy, but Felice wears his life in his songs. In the past two years alone he has become a father and undergone life-saving emergency open-heart surgery. Leaning lightly on the new album, mixing in material from The Felice Brothers and The Duke & The King, the songs repeatedly walked the same path as their composer, contemplating the thin line between life and death. 

"You & I Belong” and The Felice Brothers’ “Radio Song” were both hugely uplifting gospel hoedowns, the latter enlivened all the more by some good-natured solo skin-bashing from the nerdy-hot drummer. These were stirring hymns to being alive in the moment, intent on driving bad spirits away. Elsewhere, particularly on the hushed, haunted “Charade” and a mesmerisingly still “Your Belly in My Arms”, Felice dived deep into the shadows, while “Stormy-Eyed Sarah” and “Don’t Wake the Scarecrow” also hung heavy with loss and ill-portent.

The night’s mood, however, was ultimately redemptive. Although for a period he seemed distracted, brooding over the fact that “everything keeps fucking up on stage”, Felice pulled it out of the fire. In the end, quoting Harry Chapin’s view that music is all about “capturing whispers”, he unplugged his guitar, hopped into the crowd and led his warm, woozy band and the entire room in a communal, unamplified version of Bob Dylan's “Knocking on Heaven’s Door”. It’s a song that has long since been dulled by glib overuse, but for once it sounded like it was being sung by a man who understood all too well the reality lurking behind the title.

Watch Simone Felice perform "New York Times"

The songs repeatedly walked the same path as their composer, contemplating the thin line between life and death

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Average: 4 (1 vote)

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