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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Saturday, May 13, 2006
    Darling don't you know
    I've got a murder list
    and your name's on it
    It's for the things you did
    that I can't forget
    That's the truth no lie
    only you know why...

    - the support act The Burning Leaves set the tone for last evening at Pacific Road. The occasion - first night in the UK for the awesome Handsome Family. The music - richest, gorgeous country; the mood - darkly humorous; the themes - death, love, mutilation and the activities of strange small creatures in our world.

    I enjoyed The Burning Leaves as much as I've enjoyed any support band, ever, which is saying something. Our front-table seats in the cabaret setting helped. Like the Handsome Family, they are also a twosome: gangly guitarist with big hair, Craig (21), and Indie Mae (18), a girl gifted with a golden voice and a beautiful smile. And like the Handsome Family, they also specialise in songs about the dark side. Beautifully crafted songs of melancholy and loss. They're from round here, I think. I shall keenly follow their (surely) upwards path in the music business.

    Then Brett Sparks, pretending (?) to be jet-lagged, ambled onstage a few moments after wife and leader-of-the-gang Rennie, holding a pink towel in his hands which Rennie explained was called 'Pinky', which he always carries with him and which she sometimes thinks he loves more than her. Thus began a typical Handsome Family set of surreal banter and the most finely-crafted songs about the most twisted (and very human) things:

    "Out in the heather where the sun burns bright she swore to love me the rest of her life. But, my hands they shook as the noon bells chimed so at the last bell I showed her my knife. And I laid to rest my beautiful bride out in the heather where the sun burns bright. Now all alone under the cool night sky where locusts scream and white moths fly, silvery moonbeams fall on her grave, but twisting black vines have covered her name. For I loved too much my beautiful bride and so gave her up to the cool night sky."

    This is songwriting of the highest order and for all their onstage pretence at amateurism these are fantastic musicians. Rennie's the one with the beautifully disturbed mind who comes up with songs so dark that part-way through the set the audience begins to give off involuntary guffaws when the inevitable punchlines come:

    "I wanted to tell you all the ways that I loved you but, instead I got sick on the train. Darling don't you know it's only human to want to kill a beautiful thing."

    Rennie and Brett played some fine songs off their new album Last Days of Wonder,

    a collection of love songs sung in airports, garbage dumps, drive-thru windows and shark-infested waters. The CD celebrates the little miraculous moments of beauty found in everyday life: a golf course shining in the rain, hanging lights bouncing in the breeze, pigeons singing from billboards, trees blooming in squares of dirt. The songs linger on those moments when we’re pulled from the ordinary to feel awed by mystery, bewildered by beauty, terrified by the vast unknowable around us (whether we wander through shady groves or crowded parking lots).

    It's due out just in time for my birthday. Which will make it very happy. Though I'm happy now because last night I bought a copy of Rennie's book of stories of misfortune and menace, Evil. She signed it for me with a typical poetic flourish: