The Felice Brothers/Craig Finn – review

Koko, London

Craig Finn could write short stories, or even poems, but instead he chooses music. Normally this indefatigable storyteller recites his everyman narratives over the heady propulsive rush of his US bar band, the Hold Steady, but his recent debut solo album, Clear Heart Full Eyes, has seen him strike out alone.

Finn is invariably subjected to Bruce Springsteen comparisons, but tonight this stocky, bespectacled figure is more suggestive of Elvis Costello fronting a chugging country-blues band. His barbed, wry observational essays fizz and sting: a standout is the autobiographical Rented Room, a sigh of despair at finding himself part of a depressing post-divorce middle-aged flatshare. This is adult-friendly rock with edge and intensity.

Over the last seven years, the Felice Brothers have unravelled five albums of dusty, introspective Americana, but live the New York five-piece's effusions gain in heft and vigour. In a Dylanesque rasp, singer and guitarist Ian Felice spells out songs full of bruised, battered people who refuse to let life's setbacks drag them down.

Their last album, Celebration, Florida, saw them broaden their sonic palette. This newfound experimentation is evident in the gothic sea shanty of Fire at the Pageant and in the skittering electronic beats that open Ponzi. Yet they are most effective when Felice's bearded brother James, a bear of a man, emerges from behind his keyboard to wrestle an accordion and sing the Grandaddy-like Come Home in a quavering, heartrending alto.

An object lesson in emotional intelligence and musical virtuosity, the Felice Brothers hymn the feral majesty of Mike Tyson at his peak in Cus's Catskills Gym before encoring with a mordant take on Springsteen's Darkness on the Edge of Town and a happy-clappy update of Townes van Zandt's Two Hands. This cult band looks poised to go mainstream.


Ian Gittins

The GuardianTramp

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