Handsome Family + Snowapple at The Musician, Leicester, 26th May, 2013
Following the much-needed warmth of the day, by 8:30pm the amassed crowd was spilling out onto the street for a leisurely tobacco fix prior to the evening’s entertainment, from legendary alternative Americana outfit, The Handsome Family. The venue was relatively full, though perhaps that owed more to the large stomachs of the middle-aged and balding, mostly male audience, rather than a close packed head count.
Support came from Dutch all-girl harmony group, Snowapple. The graceful, sophisticated and 1950s styled trio told stories of love and nature taken from their debut, eponymous LP (out now on V2 Records). They sparingly backed their compositions with guitar from the beaming and hard staring (and mildly unnerving) Laurien Schreuder, complimented by the violin, keys and accordion of Fanny de Ruiter, with Una Bergin taking glockenspiel, tin whistle and mandolin duties.
The well-rehearsed three-part harmonies led the way, but it was the unexpected turns that made for an absolutely engaging show, like the whistled intro to a song about the wives and lives of Edgar Allen Poe (“Virginia”), the fuzzed-out guitar break of “Bluebirds, Blackbirds” and moments of almost operatic soaring which recalled Josephine Foster. Their Eurocentric cool allowed for a French language waltz, “Le Clown et La Fleuriste” and they closed with a near rowdy and obscure cover (to me anyway) of Jolie Holland’s blues, “Old Fashioned Morphine”.
The three-piece Handsome Family - comprising 25 year married Brett and Rennie Sparks, performing on bass ukulele, long necked banjo and guitar, with surrogate son, Matt Werner, on drum and percussion, took to the stage at 9:40pm and Rennie instantly engaged the audience with wit and charm. “Octopus”, taken from their new LP, “Wilderness” was the first of the animal songs to be heard of the course of the night.
Their format was to alternate new (animal) tunes with those from their 20-year back catalogue, where often obscure subject matter turns magically into wry humoured melancholic analysis of the human condition, and the sheer miracle of life. Aside animals (frogs, lizards, owls, woodpeckers and the aforementioned octopus) other topics covered were magnets, lava and the heat of the world, holes, the Moon and suicide (the amazing “Weightless”).
It might be fair to say that their songs are not graced by the most striking of vocals or musical proficiency, but their no frills approach seems often to be the point. Having been on the circuit for 20 years, the homely and personable track that they’ve worn may mean that they’re as familiar and unchanging to their fans as a comfortable pair of old slippers.
Snowapple stole the show.