21 Apr Union Chapel: the Guardian
“Ain’t no dust cloud from heaven can keep us from our congregation! Can I get an ‘amen’?” demands the Duke & the King’s leader, Simone Felice. The audience’s “amen” is polite more than zealous, but it passes muster with the upstate New Yorker. His band play the first notes of If You Ever Get Famous, from debut album Nothing Gold Can Stay, and from then on, the congregation were believers and the Union Chapel felt like the church it once was.”
The Duke & the King are a former side project that has become Felice’s full-time job since leaving the feted Felice Brothers. Reviews of Nothing Gold Can Stay’s mix of rootsy folk, funk and blues have been adulatory, but on stage is their true habitat. While Felice is the main singer, occasional drummer and font of quasi-religious banter (“Open your prayer books to psalm No 2 and join us in prayer,” he instructed before The Morning I Get to Hell), guitarist Robert Burke, violinist Simi Stone and drummer Nowell Haskins are anything but support staff. Each sang and swapped instruments, making lovely new combinations.
The music, which included the Felice Brothers’ Don’t Wake the Scarecrow and unexpected covers of Nothing Compares 2 U and Pink Floyd’s Brain Damage, was intensely downhearted. There was no light at the end of any tunnel. The Springsteenish lyric of Union Street was rendered even more melancholy by Haskins’s piercing, blues-drenched voice and Stone’s lamenting harmonies – but as the encore of Brain Damage reached its bleak conclusion, the group proved there were two sides to the coin and broke into a jig.