“This is a song I wrote for my daughter. She was born two summers ago, in a thunderstorm. Her name’s Pearl...I try to put her in the car seat at the back of the car, and I go to buckle her up and she says: 'Don’t buckle me'. It’s so crazy, but I think that we all feel a bit like that sometimes.”
And so, Simone Felice begins “You And I”, a bouncy country song dedicated to his daughter, with the line, “You and I belong to the woods”. It’s about being a free spirit, which is appropriate for Felice’s unconventional stage manner. His facial tics, threatening gaze and rambling story-telling make him seem quite bonkers.
Simi Stone, Felice’s bandmate on violin and backing vocals, is the complete antithesis of his awkward, yet compelling, stage manner. She’s unaffected, alluring, and warm, encouraging whoops and claps from the audience and even gently hushing them for the serious bits, while Felice gives a spasmodic, rabid grin. The third band member is Matthew Boulter (also in The Lucky Strikes), who expertly plays guitar and lap steel, but is otherwise a weak presence among these two dynamic characters.
Stone’s voice is beautiful, and in her rare solo sections - particularly on a cover of Bob Dylan’s “I Shall be Released” - you just want the rest of the band to fade away. They work well as an ensemble though, with Felice’s rough, rusty drawls pairing well with Stone’s powerful and pure harmonies. Percussion comes from Felice stomping his cowboy boots on the weakened stage floorboards- distracting rather than enhancing -and Stone’s enthusiastic clapping.
The initial timid hush of the audience later gave way to clapping and foot-stomping. Mid-set requests for “Radio Song” and “Shaky” gave the Union Chapel less of a religious feel than that of a barn dance as shouts of “Yee-haw” echoed through the pews.
There are sombre moments, as Felice talks about his harrowing childhood; “I was like Huckleberry Finn on a bad acid trip”. “Tom Brady’s Son” -- about a kid whose father hangs himself and his mother turns tricks, with Felice’s heart-rending words: “Go on out now child, walk a while, I won’t be long,” there’s a childlike vulnerability, which left me wishing his stage theatrics were less contrived and more in tune with his honest, moving music.