Ian Felice has been incredibly busy of late. The latest Felice Brothers album Life in the Dark arrived in 2016 and this was followed by a seemingly endless headline tour which continued well into the summer when they adopted the guise of Conor Oberst’s backing band. During this time, a book of poetry called Hotel Swampland emerged, written to compliment a new solo record titled In the Kingdom of Dreams, which was released towards the end of August. This beautiful album forms the basis of this latest solo tour and Ian is accompanied by label mate Gill Landry, who has been trekking the across Europe recently following the release of his fourth album Love Rides a Dark Horse. With two writers of such distinction in our midst, the evening promises to be a bit special.
Despite the recent release of his new album, Gill Landry delivers a marvellous set concocted from a range of records this evening. Performing solo, what immediately becomes apparent is the distinctive skill he demonstrates on the guitar. His songs are complimented by a distinguished range of musicians and vocalists on record, but in their absence this evening the brilliance of songs like Denver Girls is presented through the sweeping grace of Gill’s guitar along with his wonderfully rich, baritone vocals. Each song emerges from a brief introduction which Gill delivers with a deliciously dry wit and it seems that a somewhat nomadic lifestyle has provided a bevy of interesting characters and locations which help to form the colourful constitution of his compositions. There’s no denying that Landry paints a pretty dark picture at times (the new album is a result of Landry’s personal heartbreak and loss and he stated upon it’s release that it was about “the prison of expectations that eat loving relationships at their core and can turn them into a mechanical farce”), but there’s also a darkly cinematic romanticism captured within the landscape of his evocative songs and The Woman I Love, a highlight off the new record, is presented beautifully this evening, complimented impressively by Landry’s soulful harmonica. Momentum is lost slightly after yet another cable malfunction which follows the Green Man festival fubar, but Take This Body ensures the crowd remain gripped. If it’s possible to compare music to an Edward Hopper painting then Gill Landry’s heartfelt brand of filmic noir comes closest.
The Felice Brothers live experience can be a raucous, rambunctious affair, but one listen of Ian Felice’s majestic new album will tell you that this is not going to be the case tonight. This humble New York state artist emerges to a very full Night and Day cafe, acknowledges the extremely warm welcome, battered guitar in his grip, and with little fan fare opens with the title track. “I don’t want to be hanged from a gold ash tree. And I don’t want to be at the Xerox machine in this kingdom of dreams” he sings and this symbolic rendering of all our lives connects immediately with the passionate crowd in Manchester. Water Street is introduced as a reflection on impending fatherhood, but in Ian Felice’s hands the outcome is a nebulous one and all the more utterly compelling as a result. There is certainly no room for sentimentality here.
21st Century makes reference to an unspecified election but Felice makes it absolutely clear which one in his brief introduction when he describes his president as a c***. The resulting song is a blackly humourous take on the state of a nation that is stripped back to the bare minimum this evening. This approach provides the essence of the entire show; themes are clear and Ian Felice’s poetic lyricism is allowed to flow, accompanied by his stark guitar, beautifully layered on tracks like In Memoriam and utterly sombre on the stunning Will I Ever Reach Laredo.
It is clear that the fans in attendance tonight have arrived at In the Kingdom of Dreams through their love of The Felice Brothers and Ian Felice doesn’t disappoint when he chooses a handful of select cuts from several Felice Brothers albums as we head towards the end of the evening. First up are the savage, jagged upper cuts of Cus’s Catskill Gym and this is followed by the warmer tones of Life in the Dark before Ballad of Lou the Welterweight provides the audience with an opportunity to sing along to this lurid and utterly irresistible tale to conclude the show.
Read our review of Gill Landry’s Love Rides A Dark Horse here.
Review by Iain Fox | @IainFoxPhoto