The Handsome Family, Folkestone Quarterhouse: 4th March 2017

Tonight The Handsome Family arrive in town to play to a near capacity crowd at Folkestone’s Quarterhouse. Most it seems, are committed fans of the band although some like me have come along because the venue is on their doorstep and they have been lured by the penning of the darkly enthralling Far from any Road, from the equally darkly enthralling series ‘True Detective’.

The band are promoting their new release, the Western Gothic ‘Unseen’ which explores the concept of light emanating from the inky blackness of things not seen and they open with Gold from this album. There are numbers from ‘Through the Trees’ (1998), ‘Wilderness’ (2013) and ‘Singing Bones’ (2005) before an encore of ‘The Giant of Illinois’ plus ‘Up Falling Rock’ from their 2000 release ‘In the Air’.

This tour sees the married duo of Brett and Rennie Sparks joined by Alex McMahon, a young musician who also hails from Albuquerque on lead guitar, lap steel and keys along with Jason Toth, the duo’s long time associate on drums and glockenspiel. With Brett on rhythm guitar and rumbling baritone vocals and Rennie on bass, accompanying vocals and the occasional autoharp, the four-piece make a splendid noise! In fact they cast a mesmeric, almost meditative spell over the audience with their midnight dark urban folk, Rennie’s barbarous short story lyrics all sharp edged lustre. Their material pays homage to Springsteen, Costello, Dylan and most obviously Cave but it is essentially their own inimitable story here!

Brett’s vocals are at the head, (something that personally always brings me deep joy) his baritone grumbling in my solar plexus, linking the rhythm and melody, while ornamentation from the glock and autoharp spike and stroke the senses. There is an understanding of the narrative of predator and prey here, an expression of the coarse and the delicate that describes what the Sparks wish to ignite.

This evening was like an encounter with the wilderness of the American frontier, with only that light emanating from the unseen to guide me, enticingly dark!

Picture by Carl Warren

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