Show #53: The Handsome Family

As I wrote yesterday, I received my introduction to The Handsome Family on Friday night and enjoyed every minute of it. I immediately set out to find some of their shows the following day and succeeded. Ergo they get the nod this week.

The Handsome Family are comprised of Brett and Rennie Sparks. Taking the murder ballad to heart, their music is steeped in Americana with dark lyrics accompanying it. Yet they add their own twist to the traditional with often surreal lyrics and a beat usually courtesy of a drum machine. If you haven’t heard of them, you’re not alone. Despite being hailed by several magazines and rock journalism luminaries such as Greil Marcus, they’re almost unknown. Here in the States, anyway. Abroad, they are more popular and even appeared on television in the UK. A touchstone for their music is the now-defunct 16 Horsepower. But this really applies to overall mood. The Handsome Family are a bit more surreal lyrically and their music is more basic. THF are also more inclined towards the dirge-like whereas 16HP would kick things into overdrive occasionally such as on “Redneck Reel”. In live situations, THF are Brett on acoustic guitar and Mac laptop (for drums), Rennie on melodica, banjer, and bass with a guest on pedal steel, fiddle, and mandola. Brett and Rennie’s contrasting voices harmonize better than you would think. Between songs there’s plenty of humorous banter and drum patterns are queued up and instruments readied.

Today’s show is the better part of their concert from the Paradiso in Amsterdam, Netherlands on 24 November 2001. It was recorded by Michiel Oudendjik.

Setlist:

Passenger Pigeons
A Beautiful Thing
No One Fell Asleep Alone
Weightless Again
Drunk By Noon
Cold Cold Cold
So Much Wine
My Sisters Tiny Hands
Down In The Ground
Giant Of Illinois
The Banks of the Ohio

[Download the show here]