Recently, an audience at the Brudenell Social Club were treated to Ian Felice’s final show in the 8-date UK tour of his debut solo album. Ian is known as the lead singer-songwriter of The Felice Brothers, and has broken out on his own. His new album is called In the Kingdom of Dreams. It’s a melancholic, powerful record – and he gives a performance to suit.
It’s the first snowfall of the year in Leeds when I scuttle from my house to the Brudenell, but a warm scene greets me. Ian’s support act Anthony D’Amato is already playing to a seated audience, who seem captivated. He performs alone on stage with an acoustic guitar and a harmonica, and chats confidently between tracks. Songs like Good and Ready and Honey That’s Not All capture perfectly Anthony’s Americana, indie folk sound. He tells us about the music he wrote to benefit refugee aid during the (cue air quotes) 2016 election in the States – he wanted to do something positive “with a whole lot of negative energy.” His final tracks Back Back Back and Ballad of the Undecided are well-received, and the room laughs approvingly at his story about landing in England and discovering that apparently, as an American, he couldn’t speak English. The political aspect to Anthony’s performance is thought-provoking, as are his lyrics – I read later that he studied lyric writing alongside Irish poet Paul Muldoon. He’s the perfect choice of support for Ian.
Ian shuffles onto stage quite unexpectedly to do some sound checks, before smiling into the crowd and saying hello. Like Anthony, he performs alone on stage with a guitar. The stage lighting is completely pink throughout the evening, and slightly smoky for his serene first song Water Street and the next, title track Kingdom of Dreams. The set feels hazy and dreamy, appropriate for Ian’s dream-inspired album. He speaks little between tracks, and I can’t tell whether it’s due to shyness or focus that he sings always with his eyes closed, and looks down during applause. In any case, each song is beautifully performed, and his boyish stage presence is quite mesmerising.
In 21st Century Ian sings about aliens landing on Election Day and stealing your mother’s lingerie, and such brilliant lyricism can be found in every track on the album. The few words we hear from him between songs are similarly witty, and he jokes about how lucky he is to have seen the inside of so many of the “beautiful Travelodges we have in this country.” He rocks back and forth to perform Mt. Despair, a song that sounds both bleak and hopeful. I remember finally that it’s Damien Rice who Ian’s music reminds me of.
I’d been looking forward to hearing how Ian would perform my favourite on the album, Signs of Spring, a wistful piano-led love song. To replace the absent instrumentals, he beats the guitar with his alternating palm and fist. It’s a beautifully stripped back version, somehow even more forlorn than the recorded album. The next song, In Memoriam, is also performed with an emotion that the album version can’t communicate. Ian speaks its opening line, “What have I done to deserve this golden sun?” and whistles a sad tune into the microphone after singing the lyric “I was whistling past the grave.”
At one point Ian apologises for cancelling the last Felice Brothers tour, something he seems to want to make up for – as well his new album, Ian performs songs from a number of classic Felice Brothers records. Plunder provides some more jangly and upbeat moments to the set. Wonderful Life and Sell the House are both from the Life in the Dark album, one of the last of the 9 albums the band released during their time together. Saint Stephen’s End was released by the band almost ten years ago, and its instrumental opening riff is clearly familiar to the crowd, who cheer and faintly sing along.
Ian turns back to the new album to perform Will I Ever Reach Laredo, a song about a city in Texas, musing to the audience about talk of a Brexit-inspired ‘Texit’ there. I expect another love song when Ian announces awkwardly that the next is about talking a walk on a road and meeting “uhh… someone,” but it’s Ten to One, a dark, drawling track about meeting death. He tells us that he’s been taking a break from the news after becoming “obsessed with the freak-show” before performing In the Final Reckoning, the brilliant lyrics of which are worth looking up.
Final song, The Felice Brothers’ Mating of the Doves is met with loud cheers. The cheers continue until Ian returns to the stage for an encore that becomes a highlight of the show. Ballad of Lou the Welterweight is a beloved Felice Brothers record and Ian’s rendition is perfectly imperfect, his voice breaking as he croons the word ‘darling’. It’s full of tension and sorrow, and Ian gives a sheepish bow before wandering off stage, back, one assumes, to his latest ‘beautiful’ Travelodge.