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September 14, 2009 | by  | in Music |
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Handsome Furs

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It’s as dividing (and as Kiwi) a debate as Vegemite versus Marmite: Is Auckland or Wellington New Zealand’s arts and culture hub? We’re assured that you can’t judge a book by its cover, but the standard of a city’s live music scene seems as good a gauge of its cultural capital as any.

Elle Hunt and Ryan Eyers saw Handsome Furs perform in different cities. Both wrote about their experiences. Will their reviews determine a winner, once and for all?

Handsome Furs | Toto’s Bacco Room | 25/08/09

Elle Hunt

I went to Auckland in the holidays. There was no one reason for this, other than that I found myself at a loose end for my two weeks off. So, I visited the zoo’s remaining elephant, and saw Handsome Furs play at the Bacco Room, a dimly-lit grotto on Nelson Street.

A Canadian husband-and-wife duo, Alexei Perry and Wolf Parade’s Dan Boeckner play restless, edgy post-punk, Boeckner’s distinctive quaver and his gritty, distorted guitar holding their own against a metallic backdrop of Perry’s synthesizers and drum machines. Having thrashed their albums Plague Park and Face Control in anticipation of this gig, I was looking forward to seeing them live, and I wasn’t disappointed: Handsome Furs rock.

Positioned at the synth, her head of ragged platinum blonde hair bobbing furiously, Perry bounced up and down on one leg, her arms flailing like windmills, while her husband gave a heartfelt performance at the mic, moving with his guitar like it was an extension of his body. Turning all my preconceptions of married life on their head, they kissed and flirted, their chemistry tangible: they ended their set lying prone on the stage making out.

Between songs, Boeckner would talk about the inspiration behind and ideas of what he was playing. ‘I’m Confused’ was performed in memory of David Carradine (though Boeckner also noted the much-publicised death of ‘Michael Jordan’), and the crowd voted to dedicate ‘Handsome Furs Hate This City’ to Christchurch. ‘Evangeline’—think a modern reinvention of ‘Tainted Love’—is, as Perry explained, “about fucking”.

Boeckner and Perry seemed genuine, worldly people that you’d like to get to know better, and for me, that was what made this gig so memorable. My only two gripes are that firstly, at 40 minutes tops, their set was too short; and secondly, for someone used to energetic Wellington shows, the stoic Auckland crowd was a bit of a downer. The tightly-packed audience was largely immobile but for the tapping of their feet—the more extroverted were nodding their heads vigorously—and a part of me envied Ryan Eyers, who would be seeing Handsome Furs play at San Fran the following night, far from the inhibitions of the ‘Auckland semi-circle’.

Handsome Furs | san fran | 26/08/09

Ryan Eyers

Dan Boeckner and Alexei Perry would make the coolest parents ever. Hailing from Montreal, the husband/wife duo make up electro-punk act Handsome Furs, in Wellington at the SFBH for the first time as part of their tour for their latest album, Face Control. Gaining major respect before the gig had even started by setting up and sound-checking their own instruments, by the end of the show the Furs had the audience in the palm of their hand with their captivating mix of screeching guitars, hard-hitting beats, truly awesome stage presence and heartfelt performance.

With the majority of their set coming from Face Control, the Furs had no trouble finding backup vocals from an appreciative, fan-filled audience that eagerly joined in with Boeckner’s emotionally strained delivery of songs such as ‘I’m Confused’, ‘Evangeline’, ‘Legal Tender’ and ‘Radio Kaliningrad’. Equally appreciative of the enthusiastic support, Boeckner and Perry repeatedly thanked the audience throughout the show, highlighting the colonial link between their home country and ours, where “we both have the Queen on our money, and nobody knows why,” while Boeckner endeared himself further to the audience with his boyhood tale of discovering New Zealand through Bailterspace and The Chills and dreaming of visiting here.

Handsome Furs’ music meshes together a number of opposites, mixing masculine and feminine, howling, emotive guitar licks with processed beats, and bare, tender verses that burst into loud, strong choruses, and their performance reflected this, managing to be equal parts cuteness and bad-assery. Boeckner’s guitar playing was violent at times, thrashing at his strings seemingly haphazardly but always finding the right notes, while Perry cued her beats and played her keys with an irrepressible energy, bouncing around the stage and dancing around her equipment in a way that transformed what could easily have been a boring task into something much more. Together they were an electrifying presence on the stage, putting on one of the least pretentious and most involved performances I’ve ever seen, with the only flaw being the set’s tantalisingly short length.

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About the Author ()

Elle started out at Salient reviewing music. In 2010, she wrote features and Animal of The Week, which an informal poll revealed to be 40% of Victoria students' favourite part of the magazine. Alongside Uther Dean, she was co-editor for 2011. In 2012, she is chief features writer.

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