For lovers of Americana, there’s something mystical about artists who visit our shores from places like Moscow, Idaho or the Catskill Mountains, New York. It bares far more romance than Glen Iris, Victoria ever will.
With a simple ‘howdy’ and a school boy smile that could chew corn for days, Josh Ritter’s excitement reflected his audience. A masterful finger-picker with a lyrical prowess, he truly sang from the heart as he blessed the crowd with Monster Ballads and Good Man. His Folk Bloodbath saw him etching love hearts into warheads as he contemplated the “w w i i i”, while Snow Is Gone breathed more fresh air into the night. Ritter relentlessly shared his chipmunk grin through observations of rugby and how koalas didn’t smell as minty as he expected. Needless to say the boy had charm and his music will be equally embraced when he returns with his band ‘soon’.
Singing tales of heartache and woe involves far more liquor, loose women and the lure of drugs when Simone Felice takes the stage. Tonight he lines up alongside three bandmates; an asylum-cropped head of hair and underweight, the glaring eyes of a guard dog with a voice as warm as a hug.
New York Times sets a stern warning that he isn’t here to drop one liners about our cultural quirks. Intense and articulate, it’s an incredibly haunting appetiser; drums, guitars and violinist, Simi Sernaker, rising in spectacular fashion.
An author, drummer, survivor of a brain aneurysm (which clinically killed him as child) and recipient of a pacemaker after open heart surgery two years ago, it was the recent arrival of Pearl Felice that prompted the upbeat You & I Belong, which rocked out early. Charade is reflective of his father’s advice to break your back for a dollar. These inspirations seeing Felice instinctively engage so deeply; his face contorting menacingly, his intonations meaningful.
When The Felice Brothers toured earlier this year there was a distinctive element missing from the line-up; brother Simone. Tonight witnesses wonderful renditions of Don’t Wake The Scarecrow and Radio Song (minus the amazing vocals and accordion of James Felice).
Less focus on his solo album meant the inclusion of his The Duke & The King tracks such as Summer Morning Rain, Union Street and the unhampered, earnest One More American Song performed truly solo. It captured the artist and his instrument in all purity; often what attracts many to the genre.
Offering tribute to neighbour and idol, Levon Helm, Felice and band ended the evening with a flurry of hits; I Shall Be Released, Helpless and Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door. Artists prerogative, yet a little long-winded for much of the audience and even band members to endure. Still, a night to remember.
BY JOHN DONALDSON
LOVED: The genuine joy and gratitude each performer brought to the stage.
HATED: Missing the end of Masterchef. Go red team!
DRANK: Two light beers, officer.