Conor Oberst and The Felice Brothers at Higher Ground June 7, 2016   Leave a comment

The Felice Brothers at Higher Ground June 7, 2016 pic by Tim Lewis

The Felice Brothers at Higher Ground June 7, 2016 pic by Tim Lewis


I had a great time seeing music last night at Higher Ground despite the fact that I had no business being there. A lot of times I will go see a band I like or love and get to hear new songs and hear what variances exist that night with the songs I know so well. Instead of putting in any effort to listen to the artist beforehand, I made the decision to go early in the morning and bought a ticket on the day of the show. I could have checked out the music of Conor Oberest during the day, but did not. I just waited until it was almost show time and headed out.

I was not surprised to feel old when I arrived and saw the young crowd. I saw Bright Eyes when they played at the Shelburne Museum and really liked the show and knew Conor was a star of the younger generation. I suspected the songs would sound different, but felt game to give them a listen.

The ballroom was mostly full when the lights went down and opening band The Felice Brothers took the stage. They played as a five-piece with a singer/guitar player, bass, drums, violin and an accordion/keyboard player. The lineup suggested an Americana or Appalachian sound, and certainly there were overtones of both, but the core of the band seemed to be an indie rock band. From the sound of their music I would guess they were equally influenced by The Band and Nirvana. Sometimes the fiddle would have a more traditional sound, sometimes it sounded like a shredding lead guitar. Sometimes the accordion had a traditional sound, sometimes it sounded like a keyboard filling out the sound. The guitar mixed strong rhythms with a few searing leads and the singer’s voice had a unique and pleasant sound. The bass player was solid but the star of the show was the drummer. He kept any pace the band wanted nice and solid but also threw in lots of quick fills and rolls and played with an intensity that would let any song turn on a dime from something slow and pretty to high energy rock and roll. They played well together and kept a consistent sound while the musical styles varied. Some of the songs sounded like ’60’s protest songs. One sounded a bit like a sea shanty. One song had a hint of All Apologies and the song that closed their set sounded a bit like the Heartbreakers jamming out Don’t Come Around Here No More. I walked into the show knowing nothing about The Felice Brothers but was quite favorably impressed by the time they wrapped up.

Conor Oberst and The Felice Brothers at Higher Ground June 7 2016 pic by Tim Lewis

Conor Oberst and The Felice Brothers at Higher Ground June 7 2016 pic by Tim Lewis

I had noticed that there only seemed to be one band’s gear on stage. I guessed from the look that Conor Oberst would use The Felice Brothers as his backing band and as the lights went down, I was proved correct. I was very happy, since it would mean that I got to hear the drummer play a lot more. Conor is a great songwriter and the structure of his songs changed the sound of the band slightly. They songs had a bit more of a formal feel and considering the instrumentation and intensity of the music, the show reminded me a little of seeing The Waterboys. Conor’s voice is very easy to listen to but the star of the show, drummer aside, is his lyrics. Not many are still with me this morning, but I was very engaged all night long and the song about Reagan, Christopher Hitchens, Sylvia Plath and a few others was really cool. I’m sure this would be more interesting to read if I could tell you what songs he played, and I gather he stretched across his career for the setlist, but whatever he played, all the songs were enjoyable and kept me bopping for the full show. After they wrapped up the audience asked for an encore. The first song was Colin and his acoustic guitar, which he played all night long, and the violin and accordion player. The second was a full band romp and he closed with a quiet song where he played a mellow electric guitar and was joined by the bass player. Even though I put in no effort before the show, and in some ways had no business being there, I walked in willing to listen and loved what I heard. Sometimes that is the best that you can do.


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