Monday, February 9, 2009

February 8, 2009: Old Crow Medicine Show w/The Felice Brothers

North Charleston Performing Arts Center
North Charleston, South Carolina

The sound you hear is me kicking myself.

This adage might seem a curious one to invoke after baring witness to a night of live music that, as far as my tastes go, was creamy, sweet butter slathered on a doughy slice of Sara Lee. Alas, my self-loathing stems from my decision to forgo bringing my Nikon D80 to a venue that makes little to no effort to stifle still photography, so long as the artists don't complain. I am not exaggerating when I say a press escort could not have led me to a better vantage point. Our seats were second row, 45 degrees off-center, and our chairs were aligned in such a way that no first-row chairs obstructed our view. I was one full step from touching the stage. My photographic eye was a torture all night long. So many shots that could have been!

But anyway, the show itself more than made up for my poor decisionmaking.

Old Crow is a well-oiled machine, and Ketch Secor runs a tight ship. His banter was charming and deliberate, steeped in the Nashville tradition of friendly song introductions that were as much a part of the song as the blazing fiddle solos or four part harmonies. "This song is to get the girls in the back row dancing," he'd unironically announce with an 'aw-shucks' grin. The power behind Willie Watson's nasally quasi-yodels belied his waifish appearance. Dude has pipes.

And the band didn't shy away from "Wagon Wheel", playing an anthemic version that sent the sold-out crowd into a celebratory frenzy. Still, the speedy bluegrass numbers were my favorite. I'm a little rusty at song-titles, but you know the type: oompah-bass line trotting beneath banjo (and gitjo!) scrapes, chaotic harmonies delivered at a staggering pace, and it all ends on one sudden collective downstrum. Man, I can't get enough of that.

We got our money's worth, the show clocking in at over 2 hours and ending with a spotty but still fun rendition of "Ziggy Stardust" featuring all the members of opener The Felice Brothers. Which leads me to...

The Felice Brothers! Man, I love these guys. Derivative at times, yes. Sometimes detrimentally so. But when they stop trying to be Another Side era Dylan, they exude a meek and friendly warmth that cautiously draws the listener near. Kinda like--well, Dylan. But we can't disparage Ian Felice for being born with Dylanesque pipes. Plus he kinda looks like Woody Guthrie:

Is it Ian or Woody???? (Hint: It's Ian)

But listen to the record and you'll find it easy to pinpoint the true Felice tunes. "Murder by Mistletoe," "Helen Fry," even "Frankie's Gun" are stamped with a gimmickless delivery that Dylan-rehashes "Love Me Tenderly" and "Tip Your Way" lack.

They didn't pepper their live set with fan-favorites like "Frankie's Gun" or "Radio Song", opting for deeper cuts and uptempo jams. But their stage show was entertaining as all hell. Each member (save for the shy bassist) played his instrument with gusto, smashing cymbals, high-stepping in place, appealing to the audience ad nauseam. This includes drummer Simone Felice, whose beats were crude and harsh, but not to say ineffective.

After the final "Ziggy" bash, I found myself climbing the exit ramp alongside Ian. So I engaged him in a brief exchange, in what I will now deem an EXCLUSIVE HSW INTERVIEW!!!
Hearsoundswrite: Hey man, show was incredible.
Ian Felice (quietly appreciative): Ah, thanks, thanks a lot.
HSW: I've been listening to your album like crazy this past month.
IF (clearly preoccupied): Ah, really?
HSW: Hey, out of curiosity, how old are you?
IF (regretting exiting via seating area): Twenty-seven.
HSW: Really?
IF: Yeah.
HSW: Man I would have thought you were a lot younger.
IF: Haha, ah ok.
There you have it: 4 years of thorough journalism training in action.

Anyway, killer show all around. Here's to continued success for both acts, because in a world of pretentious laptop bands and cheesedick singer-songwriters, we need acts like OCMS and The Felice Brothers to keep us honest.

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