It is difficult to describe a Handsome Family gig because is it so much more than the sum of its parts. It’s not just the marvellous music, or the magnificent lyrics. It’s not just the humour or the bonhomie tinged with darkness, nor is it the fact that your are watching a couple, Rennie and Brett Sparks, celebrating their silver wedding this year. The closest I can come is surreal conviviality, because you come away feeling like you’ve been in an intimate yet comfortable space, but within that you have the musical equivalent of being slapped across the face with a wet fish; funny to watch yet somehow also disturbing.
I love going to see the Handsome Family for all these reasons. I would see them every time they toured for the music alone, but add in the banter, surreal asides and ordered chaos and you have an evening to relish, which is just what the sell out crowd at The Greystones did.
As you would expect around half the set was drawn from their new album, Wilderness which I think is one of their best for some time, and was recently reviewed on this very blog. Not a return to form as that was never lost, but a high point all the same with Frogs and Glow Worm being my stand out tracks, both of which were played to great effect here, the latter being a great way to end the main set.
But it was an old track which really stole the show for me. I loved the way that they began by just kind of being there on stage, no great entrance for who Rennie referred to as “the king and queen of the anti-climax”. Yet they were up and at it straight away with a great version of Octopus, followed by a really sparse and emotional version of So Much Wine, the track that introduced them to many in Britain through the Uncut sampler More Sounds of the Old West that they talk about in their recent Backseat Mafia interview. A track that so vividly tells a story of a clearly disturbing Christmas with anger and tenderness.
With that in the bag I felt that a great evening was assured, and so it was with them largely alternating between tracks from Wilderness and older stuff, with Rennie giving a great introduction to each and Brett providing the perfect balance in the same way that his music complements her lyrics so well.
Special mention should also be made of the band’s percussionist Jason Toth, who completed the trio on stage and provided excellent back up using a variety of instruments during the set.
I would also like to thank my fellow crowd members. It seems that these days far too many people just go along to gigs for a bit of a chat. There was none of that and everyone was extremely respectful, only the occasional sound from the quiz in the room next door, if anything adding to the surrealistic nature of the evening.
Brett and Rennie seem to enjoy touring the UK, and we certainly love having them over. I am already looking forward to next time.