The qualifier “husband-and-wife” opens a band up to merciless scrutiny, and Dan Boeckner and Alexei Perry of the Handsome Furs pique more curiosity than most. He plays for Wolf Parade; she writes short stories. How does their collaborative process play out? Is it organic or forced, a natural marriage or one of convenience? And the creative relationship—who wears the proverbial pants?
All questions that were bouncing around the Bowery Ballroom Sunday night, though the results were far from conclusive. Boeckner and Perry are divinely matched; he lean, lupine-faced, and sporadically kicking his amp, she swooning over (and sometimes under) her drum machine in a southwestern-print skirt and leather vest. The crowd couldn’t make up its mind about the duo’s dynamic, either; chants of “Perfect storm” floated up between songs, eliciting beams from both husband and wife. “You’re so nice,” Boeckner told fans on more than one occasion.
In a world where public perception of rock relationships has been muddied by flare-out Pam-and-Tommy acts, Handsome Furs is a poster child for the sustainable musical marriage. They’re finely attuned to each other’s playing, keeping a close eye on each other throughout the set, and even sharing the same synth kit for the first half of “Handsome Furs Hate This City.” Of course, there are the predictable romantic pitfalls; an onstage kiss toward the end of the double-encore had all the fans still mouthing “Cute!” and, though they can rock with the best of them, Boeckner and Perry admittedly lapse into preciousness at times. For musicians in their vein, it’s a risk that comes with the territory.
Luckily, this isn’t a sleepy kind of love. Boeckner and Perry have the same live-action energy as Arcade Fire: a building, crashing, emotionally charged sound that inspires as much reverence as it does revelry—the seductive encore performance of “What We Had” being a case in point. Openers Violens (“violence”) seemed to have a similarly dramatic M.O. to the Furs, but they really hit their stride on the last song: the rollicking, guitar-slapping “Full Collision,” which smacks of The Cure and Duran Duran, and which bore little trace of the moody, reverb-heavy songs that preceded it. It seemed a welcome break for all involved; in a concert so skewed toward the melancholy, upbeat songs are important morale-boosters.
The comedic interlude between the sets was far from inspiring, though. Flanked by two stone-faced henchmen, comedian John Benjamin offloaded some homophobic slurs (“No, I’m not afraid to say ‘faggots’”), plugged a drug or two (“If you got ecstasy, fucking drop it”), and blasted showgoers with clubby, canned-sounding dance tracks. All-around tastelessness. Shame no one ran and fetched the Dodos from their concurrent show at Mercury Lounge—the music would have been better, and the ever-gracious Merc Long could have taught Benjamin a thing or two about manners.