The Handsome Family – Sage Gateshead – 25-2-17

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I’ve listened to the Handsome Family’s last few albums and enjoyed them, without ever really falling in love with them. I take my music seriously and don’t have much time for kitsch, or anything that I consider lightweight and had perhaps been hoodwinked into mistaking the off-the-wall lyricism of the band for a lack of commitment to serious songwriting. My error (as it turned out to be) was made partly due to a deterioration in my hearing that makes accurately discerning the lyrics somewhat difficult for me, but whatever the cause, seeing and hearing the band play live was the remedy.

The show got off to a great start thanks to Courtney Marie Andrews, the Phoenix raised and Seattle resident singer/songwriter whose new album ‘Honest Life’ has rightfully put her on the map and led to realistic comparisons with the great Joni Mitchell. Joined by pedal steel player Brian, Courtney played a mixture of songs from her extensive back catalogue (she may only be 26 years old but she’s already released five studio albums). The highlights for me were all from the new record though, ‘Rookie Dreaming,’ ‘Table For One’ and the title track. The full Hall Two gave Courtney a rousing reception and I don’t doubt that many interval conversations concerned the strength of her performance and a realisation that we’d just witnessed the maturing of a truly exceptional talent.

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Back to the headliners and their set got off to a great start with the familiar ‘Gold’ from latest album ‘Unseen.’ Unsurprisingly we got many songs from the new album with ‘Tiny Tina’ the pick for me; definitely the best song ever about the world’s smallest horse. The near legendary on stage banter between the married pair of Brett and Rennie Sparks did not disappoint; I hope that me and my significant other get along so well and have such a good laugh after 30 years together! (I’m as funny as Brett but I’m not sure my lass is quite as witty as Rennie so maybe it’s a forlorn hope).

My pre gig concern that I would find the band too gimmicky was quickly dispelled. The quirkiness of the song lyrics are, judging by the terrific onstage charisma of Brett and Rennie a true reflection of these towering personalities and in no way a fabrication to stand out from the crowd. With that knowledge I really began to warm to the humour in the songs, whilst better able to hear and understand the often deeper and darker meanings.

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‘Octopus’ was particularly well received, as was a moving rendition of ‘Your Great Journey,’ dedicated to the memory of recently departed label mate Robert Fisher of Willard Grant Conspiracy. But perhaps the most welcome inclusion was from the band’s 1998 album ‘Through The Trees’ with ‘Weightless Again’ getting a rare outing. The song features the memorable lyric “This is why people OD on pills and jump from the Golden Gate Bridge. Anything to feel weightless again” and is a reminder that behind the witty and fun lyrics often lies serious subject matter. I won’t take The Handsome Family so lightly again.

Photographer – Adam Kennedy

Russell Poad

Russell Poad

I am 50 years old and live in Newcastle.

I started NE:MM as a magazine back in August 2013 and took it online in March 2014. I have always had a passion for music, and a desire to help popularise music of the type I loved. That led me to promote as 'The Outsider' and 'Common People' until recently and who knows, the promoter bug may bite again soon. As I age I find my own tastes developing and so my enthusiasm now extends to classical, jazz/funk and metal, whereas it used to sit squarely in the pop/indie/folk box. I hope it's infectious and through the efforts of the many volunteer contributors to NE:MM I hope it helps you find new music that you can feel passionate about too.
Russell Poad

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