The Felice Brothers, in their cups, pour it all out on stage

by Ryan Snyder

A long and fruitful relationship between Winston- Salem’s handful of live music venues and Americana raconteurs the Felice Brothers ( thefelicebrothers) witnessed its latest chapter at the Garage last Sunday, as the increasingly popular troubadours made a visit to the venue amidst another packed house. The fact that their third show in the area in the last six months was easily the best attended was a testimony to their popularity here, and possibly even more indicative than the sight of the line outside of the Garage’s door winding far down 7th Street an hour before the doors opened. Most bands tend to level off in popularity after a point, but not the Felices, which is a fantastic indicator that they’ve been heading in a positive direction. If, that is, they can manage to reign in their prolific onstage alcohol consumption before they become just another cautionary tale. But then again, watching brother James take down an entire fifth of Dewars over the course of a show, as he did at their November 2008 Garage date, is worth the price of admission alone; never mind the two hours of fantastic music that comes along with it. There’s something about their tales of heartbreak, spirituality and despair that pair perfectly with gluttonous boozing, and the Felices certainly don’t mind taking the lead in that department.

Sunday’s show was right in lockstep with that tradition, as the brothers joined opener Taylor Hollingsworth for a rocking collaboration of his song “Damn Boy, What’s Wrong With You.” When their time came around, the energy created by Hollingsworth’s furious finale hadn’t dissipated and the noticeably inebriated Felices came out in rare form with the menacing combination of “Cypress Grove” and “Helen Fry,” the latter of which had Brother Simone out of his stool crashing and banging like the weirdest of Tom Waits. Even with a new album out only a little over a month ago, very few new tracks made it into the set. The fun, honky-tonk vibe of “Chicken Wire” was a welcome break from the show’s ominous beginnings. The crowd loved the run of songs off their wellreceived self-titled release, starting with “Greatest Show on Earth” and the favorite “Whiskey in My Whiskey.” A slightly incoherent James stole the spotlight with his fiery keyboard playing on “Goddamn You, Jim” before is lyrics on “Whiskey” began to play themselves out on stage. Shouts from the audience begged the somewhat rare “Take this Hammer,” to which Ian replied “You got a hammer? I need a hammer.” The fans finally got their wish, however, without having to part with anything from the tool chest after only a little bit more convincing. The bands insistence on another round was obliged, though, but none of the hard stuff was offered up. Instead, they were brought some rather froufrou mixed cocktails to which Ian also noted, “Mixed drinks are our new thing. We’ve gone soft.” They wrapped up the intense 80-minute set with an even wilder encore, starting with possibly the quietest moment of the evening during a stirring “St. Stephen’s End.” As the show went on and the bottle emptied, there seemed to be a little more sentiment in every note and word. Every song seemed to be either a confession of wrongdoings or a call to clemency, with nods to their influences throughout. The band bid all a good night with the Townes Van Zandt devotional “Two Hands” and the electric “Penn Station,” where they were rejoined by Taylor Hollingsworth on keyboard. Fiddler Greg Farley gave one of his signature drum dives to cap another memorable performance. Though they are continuously billed as a part of the Garage’s Catch a Rising Star series, there will come a time when the Felice Brothers are merely “stars,” at least in the eyes of this town.