Departure lounge ramblings on music, places, climate change and stuff outdoors

The Handsome Family

Islington Assembly Hall, 29 May 2013

John Bramwell, lead singer and songwriter of I Am Kloot, delights in introducing almost any of his compositions with the wry reflection that ‘This is a song about drinking. And disaster..”. The same epitaph could be ascribed to much of the Handsome Family’s ouevre, but both bands also rejoice in the same wonderful contradiction – that their live shows are full of humour.

For the Handsome Family, Renee Sparks (lead songwriter and bassist) provides most of the jokes, often at the teasing expense of her husband, and band composer, guitarist and singer, Brett. At one point, as he is ambling around the stage looking slightly bashful at how minature a bass guitar is made to look perched atop his impressive beer belly, prompting Renee to confide in the audience that she always wanted to marry a grizzly bear, “but that ain’t legal in the USA – I dunno if it is here – so I married the next best thing”.

This tour is all about the fantastic new concept album, Wilderness. Aside from Renee’s onstage dismissal of the entire winged population of Chicago as ‘bastards’ (apparently the little feathered ones ignored her bird table for a full four years), Wildnerness is a eulogy to all living things. Each song takes its inspiration from a separate animal, fish or insect.

Sometimes the connection would be hard to discern without Renee’s pre-song explanation. ‘Woodpecker’, for example, was apparently so titled after Renee solved the mystery of why Mary Sweeney, a Wisconsin schoolmarm, infamously smashed every window in the town of Lacrosse in 1890: a little too much cocaine and, like the song’s titular hero, “she couldn’t help but see all the things that hide inside all the pretty trees”. Hmm.

We are treated to similar treatise on creatures from frogs to eels, owls and wildebeest. But my favourite is the octopus: owner of three heart, but also the magical ability to hynotise fish and lure humans into the sea. One very good reason why Mr and Mrs Sparks “shouldn’t go an a seashore holiday”.

Bonkers but brilliant – my favourite Americana live act!

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