HANDSOME FAMILY - EAST BRUNSWICK CLUB - 22 FEBRUARY 2007
It was another
of those hot and steamy nights at the sold out show in Brunswick. Fitting,
I suppose for the swampy music were were there to hear.
The pair performed the bulk of the tracks on their CD How Can I Forget This Heart of Mine, and though I had never heard any of the songs before, I thought they were all excellent examples of the genre; and the duo the perfect opener for The Handsome Family.
The Handsome Family are Brett and Rennie Sparks who hail from Albuquerque New Mexico, but their music is everything from old time country, Appalachian mountain music, gothic Americana to murder ballads. The lyrics, predominantly written by Rennie Sparks, are startling and original. They read like an Edward Gorey cautionary tale - they are absurd and bizarre, but make strange sense.
They performed a range of songs from across their repertoire with one of the highlights being "All the Time in Airports", Rennie introducing the song with a comment about the security in American airports being almost to the stage of strip searching each individual passenger. The song is redolent with familiar airport imagery. It is a sort of love song, or maybe it refers to the ghostly apparition of a loved one:
you all the time in airports
and as I
pull my shoes off
Another great song from "Last Days of Wonder" is a tribute to Nikola Tesla "Tesla's Hotel Room" where Tesla's achievements are eccentrically enumerated, as he lies dying in his room in the New Yorker Hotel.
At one stage a string broke on Brett's guitar. Rennie entertained the audience while he fixed it, with a story about her dead grandmother, the gist of which was that she was not a nice person.
The full house audience, myself included, was entertained to the max by the weird and wonderful songs of The Handsome Family. The Macintosh laptop, sitting front stage, assisted the accompaniment by providing sound effects and enhanced nuances on Brett's guitar. Rennie whimsically observed that woodland creatures were trapped in there, creatures like squirrels and chipmunks. Brett did most of the singing in his pleasant baritone, with Rennie providing background harmonies, though she sang one or two of her "killing" songs, as she remarked with relish, when introducing them. Killing songs make her feel thin, she added.
The night's entertainment ended at approximately 12.45 and it was a night to remember in all ways as a highly unusual show, from the extraordinary performance of Darling Downs to the arcane and darkly comic showmanship of Brett and Rennie Sparks in their persona of The Handsome Family. Gothic Americana music has rarely sounded better.
HANDSOME FAMILY - as near as I can work out
Review and photos by Anne Sydenham 2007