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  • Louie Barby

The Handsome Family at The Waterfront - Review


I like many others, had found The Handsome Family through True Detective. Their song; Far from any road, taken from their 2003 album The singing bones, was used as the title song for the series; accompanied with mesmerising shots of the deep south of America it worked beautifully. I instantly bought their album. This is not the first time I have fallen in love with the title song of a TV series, but traditionally my enjoyments stops with that particular song. This is not the case with The Handsome Family, their rich arrangements and captivating storytelling (often regarded as magical realism) I believe puts a fresh perspective on Country/Americana.

Unfortunately The Handsome Family was far from a sell-out gig. Due to selling so few tickets the gig was downgraded from The Waterfront’s main stage the studio upstairs, which still looked rather empty. The band returned to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their album: Through the trees and performed it in its entirety. The outfit comprised of married couple Brett and Rennie Sparks (who writes the songs), Jason Toth on drums and Alex McMahon on keys, electric and slide guitar. Brett (the lead singer) stuck to playing his acoustic guitar for the duration of the gig whilst Rennie would regularly switch between a ukulele bass, banjo and an autoharp. The band fit perfectly in the intimate setting of The Waterfront studio, setting a friendly and conversational tone. In-between songs Brett and Rennie would bicker as only a married couple could do, contesting each other’s opinions or interjecting on speeches as Brett did:

“Try and limit your comedy sketch to five or so minutes”.

Their natural connection on stage was unrehearsed and genuine. Able to make the audience laugh with their charm and cry with the sincerity of their music.

The full bodied sounds of the band were perfect under the beautifully rich vocals of Brett. Many songs had to be revised to fit the four piece ensemble, most of which surpassed the original arrangements. For example Last night I went out walking had the addition of Alex McMahon’s phenomenal slide guitar playing, subtly giving the song an ethereal quality not heard on the record itself. McMahon’s input to some of the songs were my highlights, from his Hawaiian guitar playing to his electric, he gave the record an edge it didn’t previously have. Each song, along with jokes and bickering, was given an introductory story which allowed the audience to feel the music even more, if it wasn’t obvious that their songs come from deep within, it is obvious now.

By the end point of their set they had surpassed my expectations, yet their encore was spectacular. They first did a gorgeous rendition of Bottomless Hole (my favourite performance of the night) and then at the end of the song, Brett turned and Alex McMahon still playing the chords of Bottomless Hole. The pair then began to slowly improvise their way into Far from any road in a way that a band can only do with such a famous song. As they played around the chords teasingly the boys smiled naughtily and Rennie watched from the side shaking her head like a mother. They were enjoying themselves.

To see a band enjoying what they do so much is a real treat, especially on such a long tour, and as they enjoyed themselves, so did I. I truly hope that more people turn out to their next gig as it surely is not one to be missed.

#TheHandsomeFamily #Country #TheWaterfront