The Felice Brothers @ The Rock and Roll Hotel 3/31/2011

Rock and roll will never die, according to some hoary old dude. But it is in danger of stagnating. Luckily, the Felice Brothers are working hard to resurrect the thrill. An anomaly in an age where contemporary rock bands trend towards heavy reliance on computer assistance for compositions that sound better on an iPod than they do live, the Felice Brothers' studio work does not convey the majesty of their musicianship and the power of their exuberant, complicated, soulful songs. But that may be about to change if the single "Ponzi," with a much heavier production style that lends it the drama and power typical of their live shows, is at all representative of their upcoming album to be released on May 10.

These boys will never fill an arena, but they don't fucking care–their calling is to play music, the music must spew forth, like the magma of a volcano. Still, it must be wearing to flay yourself endlessly (they were last in DC about 6 months ago), squeezed onto a tiny stage playing for an audience that can never give back to you what you give to them. In his only attempt to engage with the crowd, singer and guitarist Ian Felice tried to get the crowd excited about their new release "Celebration, Florida," but quickly gave up, sneering, "Aw, you guys don't give a fuck."

Nevertheless, the band held nothing back in a hefty hour and a half set, which included many songs from the new album. Clearly, they enjoy what they do, with James Felice, accordion player and vocalist, at one point inhaling deeply and announcing with satisfaction, "It smells like a rock club in here." Despite the cramped stage (the fiddler, Greg Farley, was in constant danger of whacking his head on a duct) and a crowd that, while very enthusiastic, was also strangely intent on holding conversations during the quieter or less familiar songs (do you really have so much wisdom to impart that you have to shout it into your friends' ears while a bunch of guys are playing their guts out 30 feet away?), they rocked the club like it was 1979, when rock stars were not yet our 21st century equivalent of the dinosaur and every club band had dreams of playing the Capital Center one day.

Highlights included "The Greatest Show on Earth," (I put a pistol in my pants, coz we're going out to dance), "Run Chicken Run" (Chickens don't get no life after death), "Whiskey in My Whiskey" (I'll make my bed on them railroad tracks, I'll leave this world and won't look back), "Hey Hey Revolver" (My teenage daughter's knocked up, Well Jeanie this time you really fucked up), and "Ponzi." With vocals like the beer soaked, splintered floor of a dive bar; the basic trinity of rock instruments enhanced by fiddle, piano, harmonica, accordion and the washboard; and songs of classic American themes of guns, liquor, sweethearts, mothers, and people scraping bottom, the Felice Brothers are keeping the flame alive, the once and future kings of American rock.

*post courtesy of Alice Stephens / photo courtesy of the band website*