Wednesday, 23 May 2018

GIG REVIEW: Simone Felice - Hare and Hounds, Kings Heath, Birmingham. Tuesday 22nd May 2018

A combination of a room swimming with positive vibes and the last night of a successful tour reaped hefty rewards as Simone Felice sent out a timely reminder of his sterling credentials. Freshly equipped with the riches of a new album refusing to cool down, this powerful singer-songwriter from the wilds of New York State made sure that a vibrant atmosphere of mutual love celebrated the mystique of the cultured song.

From a degree of recollection, this was the fourth time in the last few years that Nottingham based promotion Cosmic American had scheduled a Simone Felice show a short hop down the M42 in Birmingham. This return to the Hare and Hounds offered a different perspective to the first of this quartet in 2014 when a band format operated in the venue’s main room. The solo format seems the de facto touring mode recently and a slight downgrade to a re-configured smaller room worked wonders for a packed audience pushing three figures.

Essentially, the love of many of those present stretches way back past these last four years as demonstrated by the rapturous reception reserved for older songs that Simone made famous when in tandem with his brothers over a decade ago. Both ‘Radio Song’ and ‘Don’t Wake the Scarecrow’ featured on The Felice Brothers’ 2008 self-titled album and show no sign of losing their sheen in a live setting. The request shouted out for the latter was hardly required, while the story shared of the former from a recent Dublin gig showed little remorse to those lacking a little decorum at a Simone Felice show.

A recurring theme of the evening linked the notion of covering Dylan with the phrase ‘I’ve got my own songs’. These he certainly has and no time was wasted in sharing the treasures of the new record. Opening with the title track from ‘The Projector’, set the scene perfectly for an evening of distinctive song. In fact, you have to do a lot of searching to find a more defining song to start an album in a long time. Elsewhere this record was represented by impressive numbers such as ‘The Fawn’, ‘Hustler’ and a moment of diversity where the guitar was temporarily put down and Simone Felice – the poetry orator, took over. ‘They Hang Upon Upon My Every Word’ was beautifully read out with a strategic prompt being the inner gatefold sleeve of the vinyl version displaying the words. The poet in Simone Felice is not difficult to detect even when not as explicitly presented as this moment.

Older favourites like ‘New York Times’, ‘Union Street’, ‘If You Ever Get Famous’ and ‘Summer Morning Rain’ turned themselves into four-minute gift wrapped packages. Most had a story linked as the inter song chat flitted between the enlightening and the irreverent. Aside from the song delivery and chat, the idiosyncratic mannerisms still define the stage persona of Simone Felice. These range from a steely stare to the humble bow.

The pinnacle of the evening was a communal rendition of the now-secure Simone Felice hometown classic ‘Bye Bye Palenville’. First New York City, then a wider world may have eventually become his canvas, but a little hamlet in the Catskill Mountains has been forever immortalised to symbolise where a heart lies. This surprisingly was the only track lifted from the superb STRANGERS album, but if you are limiting the choice to just one, the best may as well prevail.

A couple of tours ago Simone invited Irish singer-songwriter Anna Mitchell to open for him on a run of British dates. This time it was a Nottingham based artist going by the name Keto who had the opportunity to play a few tunes in support. Her style cornered the moody indie angle with the electric guitar getting a few notches turned up to match a voice built to rise above the parapet.

A sharp sound produced from the Gretsch guitar gave the main set an added boost and an air of contentment resounded when the time came for fans to reflect and merchandise to be sold. This being the last show of the tour, stocks were dwindling, but if precedence is anything to go he will be back. Simone Felice climbs the influential ladder each time seen, although serious devotees will scream that he scaled the heights ages ago. Without splitting hairs, what you get is a dominant performance from a singer-songwriter in tune with conjuring up some magical lyrical expressions, observations and poetic verse. Birmingham was under his spell this evening.