The Handsome Family Go Back In Time at Tramshed Cardiff. We are stepping on board the Handsome Family Tardis as they take us back twenty years to 1998 and the release of their third album Through The Trees.
First, let’s set the scene. It is a sedate Tramshed tonight, no barrier, not standing crowds but neatly arranged banks of chairs. Very different from when The Handsome Family played the packed and very warm standing gig at The Globe March 2015. Times are a changing. Last time the tour was following the release of Wilderness, tonight we are in a retrospective mood as we step back in time.
Secondly, in time-honoured tradition The Handsome Family have support and for this tour, it is Drunken Prayer aka Morgan Geer. Yes, Drunken Prayer is a solo act, no band joined him as he stood on stage dressed in black with his fender telecaster. The venue was cool and we needed warming up, to build up the atmosphere for the anticipated main act. The music delivered was an eclectic mix of styles, loosely fitting under the banner Americana. The lyrics and delivery were rooted in the folk music of the Scot-Irish ancestors of the area of North Carolina the Geer family hails from. Whilst the guitar playing roved from Rockabilly through to Country via what was at times rather eerie and creepy delivery of chords. Reflecting his album Title Devil and The Blues, his quiet style would have benefited from a bit more dialogue with the audience combined with a mix of styles definitely hit the right spot for the audience who appreciated the laid-back low-key delivery.
Thirdly, interval time to catch up with friends, have a drink and explore the merch on offer including the charming, unique and effective painting by Rennie.
Now for the main event, as the lights dimmed again, sets were re-taken and The Handsome Family stepped onto the stage to warm applause and whoops of delight. Tonight the heart of the band bringing The Handsome Family a spark of creativity are husband and wife Rennie stage left and Brett Sparks centre stage were joined by drummer and extraordinarily talented percussionist Jason Toth and multi-instrumentalist Alex McMahon. On stage tonight the array of instruments played and sounds created shaped the tones and textures that accompanied the story filled poetic lyrics of every song. The one constant was the acoustic guitar and vocals from Brett as everyone around him changed instruments he kept on delivering.
This tour is the first time The Handsome Family have played an album in its entirety. The album heard and played live had a mesmeric effect, a soothing yet troublesome mix of a lullaby, fables and gothic fairy tales. We were taken into the trees, to meet the world’s tallest man. Who at five years old was six-foot and too tall to be hugged Rennie shared this, felt so sad that it had been the motivational thought to write a song. As ever it is the anecdotes the conversations between husband and wife that binds the live show together. We the audience are invited to hear the conversations that normally we do not hear. Snippets of thoughts and the trail of making a song. The tone at times takes on a feeling that we are listening to a pair of bickering comedians. The music at times is trippy and other times scary but always wrapped in the delivery of tones that are uniquely the family way. Where the Birch Trees Lean, is haunting you can hear the wind in the music that has shaped the Birches, the titanium triangle from Portugal (these are the facts you get from Rennie!) makes a distinctive bell-like surreal sound. The next number was seamless as we now were taken inside the Cathedral as the song inspired by the life of the majestic building. The unusual and at times unexpected sounds creating moods and atmospheres. Sometimes these are cold other time warm and comforting full of atmosphere. The music is a collision of music from folk who have influenced the music of America with an edge of modernity as punk-folk is developed. The songs are rarely cute or quaint. Often involving critters and the power of nature the sounds and lyrics challenge you this is modern cutting and challenging.
As the album fades away with the closing track My Ghost the feeling of the venue is ethereal. We all wondered what other highlights from across their discography would be plucked out to close out tonight’s concert. The tone and mood picked up with gems including Frogs from their latest album Wilderness and of course no set would be complete without Far From Any Roads the hit theme song they wrote for True Detectives. Another stand out number was The Bottomless Hole. As the music faded we had to climb out of the bottomless hole that is the magic weaving of sound that encapsulates you at a Handsome Family show and step out of the venue and back into the real world beyond.
Track List – Through The Trees
My Sister’s Tiny Hands
Where the Birch Trees Lean
Down In The Ground
The Giant of Illinois
Down in the Valley of Hollow Logs
The Woman Downstairs
Last Night I Went Out Walking
Bury Me Here
08 MAR – HEBDEN BRIDGE Trades Club
10 MAR – EDINBURGH La Belle Angele
11 MAR – GLASGOW ABC
12 MAR – ABERDEEN Lemon Tree
13 MAR – STIRLING Tolbooth
15 MAR – LONDON Round Chapel
17 MAR – LEEDS Howard Assembly Room
18 MAR – SHEFFIELD Plug
20 MAR – NORWICH Waterfront
21 MAR – CAMBRIDGE Junction
22 MAR – BRISTOL St Georges
23 MAR – SOUTHAMPTON Brook
24 MAR – BRIGHTON St Georges Church
25 MAR – FOLKESTONE Quarterhouse
24 MAY – BIELEFELD Forum (DE)
25 MAY – DÜSSELDORF ZAKK C (DE)
26 MAY – HANNOVER Café Glocksee (DE)
27 MAY – BERLIN Lido (DE)
29 MAY – DRESDEN Beatpol (DE)
30 MAY – REGENSBURG Alte Mälzerei (DE)
31 MAY – VIENNA WUK (AT)
02 JUN – FREIBURG Great Räng Teng Teng (DE)
03 JUN – ZÜRICH El Lokal (CH)
05 JUN – REUTLINGEN Franz K. (DE)
06 JUN – HEIDELBERG Karlstorbahnhof (DE)
07 JUN – WIESBADEN Kesselhaus (DE)
09 JUN – AMSTERDAM Paradiso Noord (NL)
11 JUN – AARHUS Atlas (DK)
12 JUN – COPENHAGEN Jazzhouse (DK)
15 JUN – GOTHENBURG Pustervik (SE)
16 JUN – Södra Teatern & Mosebacke (SE)
Tickets via http://loosemusic.com/live