The Handsome Family @ Whelans - 27th March 2015

Husband and wife duo Brett and Rennie Sparks step onto the stage at Whelan’s with no fanfare or introduction. They are joined, on this occasion, by drummer Jason Toth and together the three musicians deliver a compelling set of songs over the next 90 minutes.

Drawing from most of their 9 albums, although strangely nothing from the most recent Wilderness release, the songs reflect the original writing skills of Rennie, along with the dynamic guitar playing and musical arrangements of Brett.

The between song banter is very funny as always and the two spontaneous spouses bounce off each other in a mock combative style, while all the time maintaining that gleam in the eye or wry grin. Rennie has a vivid imagination and comes up with some really interesting musings on American life, crime in Albuquerque, Spanish milkmen, grizzly bears, moving furniture in apartments, the smallest horse and the tallest man in the world.

In the Air, released in 2000, contributes five songs - Up Falling Rock Hill, When the Helicopter Comes, Don’t Be Scared, So Much Wine and The Sad Milkman. There are a further 3 songs from Through the Trees (1998 ) - Weightless Again, The Giant from Illinois and My Sister’s Tiny Hands.

Also featured are Loneliness of Magnets, The Dutch Boy, Somewhere Else to Be, The Bottomless Hole and some new songs in Tiny Tina, Gold and Whitehaven, the latter a song about when the happy couple first met.

Rennie plays her ukulele bass and autoharp while Brett thrashes his Fender Telecaster guitars into submission with some wonderful riffs and atmospheric runs. Never more so than on the Far From Any Road song, made famous as the theme for the True Detective TV show. The Handsome Family are proud to have the song included in the success of the project and play it with a menace that underlies their unique take on the ways of the wicked world.

The observations and the manner in which they chronicle the darker side of our human nature is balanced by the lightness of the words that sometimes get passed over in the song dynamic: “I feel the loneliness of magnets, and trembling mountain peaks, I call you from dark valleys, and I hear you echoing.”

A heart-warming performance for all the right reasons and long may this oddly quirky couple continue to thrill us with their perspectives and tales of the human condition.

Review and photograph by Paul McGee