Faith Rewarded: The Duke and the King at Union Hall

Friday, 22nd May 2009

About 100 or so hardcore fans, friends and family of The Duke and the King watched the debut performance of the band at Union Hall in Brooklyn. They came to the show, mostly, without having any idea what the band would sound like, what kind of songs they would play. The fans came mostly, because they had faith in the artist.The Duke and the King did not dissapoint. For those who worried that the music might take on too much of a melancholy live show, there is nothing to fear. This band, while still playing some beautiful ballads, rocked the house. They opened with one of Simone Felice's finest songs, "Scarecrow". The rendition was probably the best i have heard yet. Simone introduced it as a "Hudson River Song" , and delivered a searing performance, which was capped off by a shocking vocal coda by Robert "Chicken" Burke, which raised a few eyebrows in the Hall for those who had never heard his amazing voice. They followed that with their new single "If You Ever Get Famous", which was pretty faithful to the version on the record.Simone then introduced the next song by bringing the audience back to the very early days of the Felice Brothers, when they played the Subways of New York City. He explained that "we sucked" and that there were songs that they learned to get people to stop and sing a long and hopefully, give some money. There were others, like "Waterspider" and "Going Going Gone", that people just walked on by as they played it. He said they wrote Water Spider for Harriet Tubbman (which he has said before) and also about Ghandi, and John Lennon, and Martin Luther King, and laughing he said "prince" and "Mike Tyson". Very nice version and great interplay with the crowd.The King, Chicken Burke, then left the drum kit for the only time all night for lead vocal on the funky slow jam, "Suzanne", Chicken had a nice little breakdown in the middle of this song in which he talked about how loneliness is a big part of the rock and roll life. Simone followed with a long meandering spoken word rap about "Beware of the Beast called Man" which had the audience hanging on his every word and then just at its most anxious moment he called out "Pharoah, My Pharoah, my girlfriend is dead...." of "The Devil is Real". Some artists sing songs, some paint great landscapes , and some rare individuals, emote art through every pore of their skin. Simone Felice, like John Lennon, is totally incapable of being uninteresting. What he says you may or may not understand or agree with, but you will be entertained. There are no bathroom breaks, cause you never know what you might miss, what he might say, because his filters are off and his words are like James Dean's car careening recklessly down a winding road.This version of "Devil" was outstanding. They followed that with "Union St", a reminiscence of perhaps a simpler America. "Lose Myself" had a nice speech in the middle by Simone, about a sinful world, and how we all gotta use love and music and each other to find shelter from the bad world as he referenced Bob Marley and Eminem. An excellent live number with an excellent drum fill at the end by Chicken Burke. Simone then called the King "a Bad Motherfucker" in the "Country of Stank" and said the next song "Your Belly in My Arms" "Me, Ian and James recorded this song when we first started to play, and it was ah..a fictional song then, and well, its taken on a whole different meaning now". Very intense performance with nice harmonies by the King. One of my favorite lines is "Woke up with the driver crying "Birmingham" , kinda transports you to that place. Simone then told a story about the early days of the Felice Brothers when James wanted to buy a keyboard, but was told by Simone and Ian, "fuck you, every thing has got to be made out of dirt and wood and meat and barbeque" but he said they finally relented, and then explained why they used a electronic beats for "The Morning that i Get to Hell" . There was a lot of singing along in the crowd for this new song. "Mercy" followed, perhaps the best ever version of this song as it ended with two shots of heavy metal thunder. The band proved to be very tight for a new outfit and a big part of that was Chicken Burke driving the show skillfully through the set. After Mercy came crashing back to Earth, Simone gave a heartfelt tribute to his brother Ian, with stories of listening to music, dreaming and writing poetry together, with "American Song" about down on their luck characters in the post Gulf War Bush Years. Radio Song was improved with Burke's Charlie Watts channeled beat, making it sound like garage rock from the Stones Tattoo You era. Burke again went Van Morrison vocally on "Annabelle, You Blow My Mind" on the outro to Radio Song.They ended the show with a rousing rendition of the Beatles "Don't Let Me Down" complete with Simone Felice hurling himself into the fray of the audience, twisting his legs and swinging his Fender around dissapearing amongst the fans then to crawl back to the stage and deliver the lyrics with every morsel of strength he could muster.When fans of the Felice Brothers see this show they will no longer be sad that Simone is not touring with the band. They will see an artist of this ability needs more leg room to display his considerable talent, and fans get a lot more out of it.Not surprisingly, Simone greeted fans after the show with hug and kisses and many met Chicken Burke for the first time and he is a very charming fellow.All Hail the Duke and the King!