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Culture

Review: The Handsome Family

★★★★

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“Even an a***hole deserves a love song”
1

3 September @ St Barnabas Jericho

The host at St Barnabas Jericho doesn’t seem to know about me reviewing tonight’s Handsome Family gig, “but please come in,” they say kindly. I thank them before properly taking in the beauty of the church. In all honesty, I’d been feeling a little run-down prior to the show and had considered not attending, until a friend told me St Barnabas – where I was yet to visit – is Oxford’s most stunning venue. It’s without doubt a strong contender; the 10- or 15-minute walk from work along the canal is worth it for these surroundings alone.

The host welcomes the audience to the building, telling us The Handsome Family will be on at 9pm, after a set from Daniel Knox. The American singer-songwriter is unknown to me and – as strong as The Handsome Family set is – supplies the night’s best moments. With a voice of later Leon Russell-like fragility, his highlights here include ‘Fall Apart’, ‘A Fool In The Heart’ and ‘Girl From Carbondale’ – all from his 2021 album, Won’t You Take Me With You. He speaks gently and honestly in between songs, succinctly explaining their backstories. “Even an arsehole deserves a love song,” he says before his last number.

Things take a weirder and more theatrical turn when The Handsome Family take to the stage. Brett and Rennie Sparks’ surreal dialogue – covering homicidal rage, vodka bottles on the lawn and treacherous holes – breaking up the setlist is a show in itself. She starts talking and he soon interjects, reminding me of a gothic slightly far-gone uncle at a family gathering – albeit one who can expertly launch into a song at the drop of a hat. With the lights gorgeously illuminating the band’s guitar necks, and acknowledgement of the tallest man who ever lived who “needed someone really big to hug him”, it’s a reliable – at times darkly comedic – performance. Striking venue, superb support, a sturdy main event – no complaints here.

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