Big Nite Out

I knew if I stayed in Brunswick long enough that I wouldn't have to leave the suburb to see music. Actually we've been able to see music in this part of the suburbs for a while, but the death of venues like The Punters Club has meant that more and more venues like the East Brunswick Club have come into being. All enthusiastic and not at all flash, no airconditioning. But able to host credible overseas bands and charge for it. Even without airconditioning.

This night out has been on the cards for a while and I'm glad we booked to see The Handsome Family early on as it did sell out. Gerard arranged for us to go and see them last time at Ceres in 2005, when I was pregnant with Grace. He played me a copy of one of their CDs someone from Tas had sent him. I was instantly sold. As usual I didn't take the trouble to find out anything about the musicians, all I heard was the voice of Brett Sparks singing these dark, beautiful songs. He has one of those deep, male voices that can knock you over. The sound was so rich and layered I thought the band must be a multi generational tribe of country folk. So when Brett and Rennie Sparks came on stage at Ceres looking as if they'd be at home in inner city Melbourne and started cracking jokes about going to hospital and dysfunctional families and living in the US, I was somewhat taken aback. Where was the band? A drum machine and the odd extra instrument (melodica?)? Right. Not what I expected. Not at all. Still as I settled down and the night wore on, I stopped feeling dislocated. The beautiful, rich music with its' deep roots in American folk and country was still there. And the banter in between trod that beautiful line twixt tasteless and hilarious. If one was going to label The Handsome Family, I suppose alt/goth/country would do it. But despite all the jokes, it's pretty deep stuff. But I guess it's like reading a sad story out aloud for laughs, you get the audience in and with you. Then they get to hear what you say. And tragedy has its' comic side. 

photo by Mark Owen, from The Handsome Family Website

Last night was always going to be an excercise in endurance. It was hot in there. So hot that people were leaving or wiping their faces with their hankies. At one point I felt the sweat drip off my eyeball. The thought of someone else from the audience touching me in passing became unbearable. Lord knows, it must have been so much worse up on stage under those lights. Lack of airconditioning or ventilation made the Punters look classy, I tell you. I have never ever been in a venue where it was this hot before.

Three songs in they played my favourite song, the one I was hoping to hear live. The one I refer to in my head as the hole but is actually called The Bottomless Hole. The one I listened to endlessly while crocheting a blue poncho in my hospital room where I was a guest of the state for a month. Even if you don't know the tune, it reads out loud really well and goes like this:
My name I don't remember
Though I hail from Ohio
I had a wife and children
Good tires on my car
What took me from my home
And put me in the earth
Was the mouth of a deep, dark hole
I found behind my barn
We'd been filling it with garbage
As long as you could count
Kitchen scraps and dead cows
Tractors broken down
But never did I hear
One thing hit the ground
And slowly I came to fear
That this was a bottomless hole
I went out behind the barn
And stared down in that hole
Late into the evening
My mind would not let go
So I got out my ropes
And a rusty, clawfoot bath
And rigged myself a chariot
To ride down in that hole
My wife she did help me
She fed me down the ropes
And then I sank away
From the surface of this world
But when the last rope pulled tight
I had not reached the end
And in anger I swung there
Down in the dark abyss
So I got out my knife
I told my wife goodbye
I cut loose from the ropes
And fell on down that hole
And still am there falling
Down in this evil pit
But until I hit the bottom
I won't believe it's bottomless
The Handsome Family, singing bones, 2003

I love the lyrics to this song. How the simple words and everday imagery move into a surreal lanscape of the mind. I don't think I've ever read a better description of going mad and the loss of self. Maybe that's not what it's about but that's how those words spoke to me.

It's interesting watching the partnership between Rennie and Brett Sparks. Not that he'd like the word partner, that word being the subject of much on stage banter last night. He prefers husband and wife. Fair enough. Anyway, Rennie takes the lead with the talk between songs and she's the writer. The bookish one. As she kept reminding her husband. And the one selling CDS before and after the show. Just after the show ended, I turned around to buy a CD. I'd been standing next to the fan blowing air on the merchandise table and suddenly she was there. No break. Here was my opportunity to tell her how much the hole song had nourished me during that dark time. But I mumbled something lame about being first in line as I fumbled for my purse, handing her a 20 that I thought was a 50 and us both being embarrassed that I needed another 5. Not that I minded. Not at all.

If you want to hear a sample of The Handsome Family, apparently you can on their myspace. The CDs are available in independent type music shops. Highly recommended. And thank you mum, for baby sitting over night. It was a great success. Grace knew where she was when she woke up and was not the least but upset at going to stay at Nana's for the night. Indeed every time there was move to go any where today she would look at me and inquire, Nana? And I loved going out. Yay.

Added later: G and I were talking last night about which Handsome Family CDS we like best and about what makes them good. We both agreed that their self-conscious kookiness and eccentricity can be a tad irritating, even if it is really funny. Sad things don't always have to be played for laughs, you have to trust that the audience will engage through the work. Audiences are intelligent that way, I think.And that some of their CDS are a bit sameish. G doesn't like their drum machine and we had to agree that they are not a musicians band, they're a writers band.  Like G said, you tend to have your favorite and the new one isn't diffrent enough to want to move on. But what redeems all this and makes you go on past all this is the quality of her writing and the beauty of his voice. Still absolutely worth a listen. Most definitely.


shula said...

You know, on stage, under lights. It's always that hot. So hot it puts you in a kind of trance.
I used to wear false eyelashes onstage in the 80s. The heat would make them melt off and you'd end the gig with all the backup singers' false eyelashes lined up, stuck, in a neat little row on their mike stands, so we wouldn't lose them.

Penni said...

Oooh, I really like the music - love the lyrics of Bottomless Hole. Lucky you being Out In The World After Dark. Sounds like fun. I almost remember what that was like ;)

nutmeg said...

I've not heard of the Handsome Family before - but it sounds like something that would interest me. A live gig - WOW. I can't remember my last LIVE one....
And don't you just love hearing Grace can't wait for the next time she's sees Nana? Looking into my crystal ball I can see some more nights out for you in the future ... ;-)

completely cactus said...

that's really funny - i just finished a post about going to see The Handsome Family last night in Perth (and called it 'big day out') then looked in on your blog and discovered this post. You were much more eloquent than me about it though - i just used the word 'really' a lot. We even have photos of their gig that look exactly like yours. Ha