This was another cracking Punk Rock Blues gig for which this time I was covering for Outline and my review there should be appearing shortly.
Regular visitors to Norwich The Handsome Family have in recent years stopped off at Norwich Arts Centre where about this time last year they played a brilliant gig, with a notable support from Loose label-mate, the amazing Courtney Marie Andrews.
This year they are celebrating the 20th anniversary of their Through The Trees album by touring a set that includes the album in its entirety, in order, along with a few other favourite tracks from their huge catalogue. Loose Music have also produced a deluxe edition version of the album on heavyweight blue vinyl.
Support was from Drunken Prayer, who is Morgan Geer, also a member of Freakwater. Armed with just his Fender he told us stories both in song and between them of his homeland and issues that we can relate to, such as the relentlessly creeping gentrification as well as issues less easy for us to relate to as we don’t often hear shotguns, thankfully, as he described between songs some of the issues in his homeland. His set went down well with an interested audience and made me want to check out his work, both as Drunken Prayer and with Freakwater.
(I had no camera for this one so excuse the phone crapcam pics)
The Handsome Family were in very fine form, both musically (playing as a four-piece this time around, and with Brett on acoustic guitar) and conversationally between songs. It’s something I love about them. The band are a big deal in my household and I listen to them a lot but to hear them live is always a special experience. The way that husband and wife Brett and Rennie Sparks introduce the songs and talk to each other is entertainment in itself. They might dig at each other but it’s always affectionate and gentle(-ish) but never staged or awkward which makes each and every gig entirely unique.
After performing the whole album they returned for an encore but with curfew fast approaching some selections had to be ditched and it took on an improvisational feel which was actually one of the night’s highlights for me. A night that opened with the immense Weightless Again concluded with Bottomless Hole seguing into Far From Any Road. It doesn’t get much better.
At one point they mentioned about walking around the city earlier in the day, much as Drunken Prayer also did, describing the “Little America” quarter. To my horror I realised they were surely describing a part of Riverside across the water from the Waterfront and a little part of me inside if not quite dying was certainly squirming in embarrassment at this representation of our city. Fortunately, the Handsome Family at least have been here enough times to know that this area is not an accurate representation of Norwich.
Perhaps the only thing that could have made it better were if it had been happening at the Arts Centre. The Waterfront Studio doesn’t feel entirely matched to this music and audience, plus the mixtape selection of heavy rock before the acts came onstage was a curious choice jarring with the onstage musical style. The Handsome Family have a very inclusive way of engaging with the audience (and each other) which would have felt even better at NAC where they always sell the place out. Tellingly, the smaller capacity studio was not quite full which suggests to me their target audience probably felt the same way rather than being a reflection on the pulling power of the band.
UPDATE: Review now up on Outline’s site and can be read here.
Thanks to Outline Magazine, The Handsome Family, and Drunken Prayer.
all rights reserved (c) shashamane 2018