Well, it was fun while it lasted.
Following lengthy delays caused by a late afternoon cloudburst and an extended between-act soundcheck, Simone Felice delivered an involving and inventive trio set that was over and done with in 35 minutes.
The inaugural headline act of WUKY-FM’s Phoenix Fridays series at Phoenix Park, Felice constructed folk-based storysongs with loose, rockish settings that sported the novel instrumentation of Austrailian electric dobroist Matty Green and acoustic cellist Gabriel Dresdale with the star attraction doubling as drummer and vocalist.
The scant, six song sent was split between three works from the singer’s two solo albums, two from records cut with his Catskill-based brethren The Felice Brothers and a contemplative finale cover of Neil Young’s Helpless.
What was there was quite intriguing. A loose, ragged jam slowly gathered steam before bleeding into If You Go to LA (one of two songs pulled from Felice’s new Strangers album). The tune ended with a more dissonant, deconstructed exchange among the three players. A poppish drive later accented the Felice Brothers’ appealing Radio Song.
Felice also proved an intense and intuitive performer, both as instrumentalist and singer. The jams revealed a willingness to tinker with a song’s mood and groove, but he remained a storyteller at heart while singing the mantra-like verses of You and I Believe (from his untitled 2012 solo debut album) and constructing the almost spiritual cast given to Helpless.
And that was it. After six songs, he politely bid Phoenix Park adieu. The set was roughly half the length of the preceding set-up and soundcheck and considerably shorter than the fine opening outing by Dawn Landes.
The Louisville-born, Brooklyn-based Landes favored a set of spacious, midtempo Americana tunes with strong country undertows and a style of singing that was steadfast and confident despite the often vulnerable nature of songs like Straight Lines and Wandering Eye. Picture Natalie Merchant singing Nashville Skyline-era Bob Dylan and you get a partial idea of where Landes’ music was coming from.
Especially arresting was her cover of Southern Accents, the title tune to one of Tom Petty’s worst albums. The original version’s solemn pace would have fit in easily with the comfortable stride of Landes’ set. But the singer amped up the song and cut loose with a rootsy gusto that provided another dimension to an already strong performance.