The Handsome Family, Whelans, Dublin 27.03.15

Bright Sparks

Hot dog, jumping frog, Albuquerque or Albuquirky as some would opine in the case of The Handsome Family. God, that was terrible but 'Scripsi quod Scripsi' as Pontius Pilates said when his gym class were unhappy with his notice board assessments of their fitness levels. Brett and Rennie Sparks have been making music for quite a while now. What type of music though? Americana, Indie Folk, Alternative Country. Take your pick. Sticking a label to the music doesn't help when you witness a Handsome Family show. The songs are unique. Some start with a country feel and end up as Gothic folk tales. Other songs tell about real people from recent history for example Nicola Tesla (scientist) and Robert Wadlow (the tallest man who ever lived). Other songs are odes to animals or everyday events. Rennie looks after the lyrics while Brett builds the melodies and sings in that magnificent sonorous voice. Rennie also sings and plays a variety of instruments. Both are remarkably funny on stage with Rennie humourous to the core. Her between song audience chatter is a thing of beauty whether she is re-telling an incident in their local town or chiding/praising her guitar playing husband. The lady beside me at the show laughed her heart out and I was with her. Subject matter ranged from large underpants, a stabbing in a baby clothes shop and the problem of Spotify (Brett). There isn't a new album just yet so the show was a beautiful offering of the older stuff with a couple of new tracks given a run out. The drummer, Jason Toth, caressed and massaged the drums perfectly. Rennie played what looked like a ukelele bass. I'm terrible at recognising instruments (I have just recently stopped referring to a double bass as a 'big cello'). She plays the bass lines effortlessly standing left of stage while Brett takes up position to the right. Brett counts in most of the songs with his version of the '1,2,3...” mantra. In the middle of the set the band gave a rendition of the track that has given a degree of fame and recognition.The track "Far From Any Road," was used as the main title theme song for HBO's 2014 crime drama 'True Detective'. It's nice to see overnight success after so many albums. The highlight of the show for me was 'The Giant of Illinois' about the previously mentioned Wadlow. I remembered my old 70s edition of The Guinness Book of World Records, the facts seared by awe into my brain, 'Robert Pershing Wadlow, height 8ft 11.1in'. A sad tale beautifully spun. It a cruelly ironic twist Wadlow was forced to make ends meet but taking on taxing work for advertisers. A shoe company made a pair shoes for him which in reality damaged his feet. He walked large distances touring the US while people marveled at his height and huge shoes. The footwear did for him in the end. He developed a bad foot infection causing his death.

The giant of Illinois
Died from a blister on his toe
After the walking all day
Through the first winter's snow

Throwing bits of stale bread
To the last speckled doves
He never even felt
His shoe full of blood

Delirious with pain
His bedroom walls began to glow
And he felt himself soaring up
Through falling snow

And the sky was a woman's arms
The sky was a woman's arms

A boy with a club foot
Had sat next to him in school
Once upon a summer's day
They went wandering through the woods

They spotted a sleeping swan
On the banks of a muddy stream
And they stormed it with rocks
Till it collapsed in the reeds

They lay out on a green lawn
Full of chocolate and lemonade
But under the blue bowl
The giant was afraid

'Cause the sky was a woman's arms
The sky was a woman's arms

Other stand out tracks were 'Down In The Ground' and 'The Dutch Boy' but the show was a wonderful celebration of The Handsome Family's body of work.

'Mirror, mirror on the wall, Who's the most handsome of them all?'


Band Web Site 

Check out some of Rennie's books and art also at the above web site. She can't help but be creative.

Band Facebook

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