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Last Night: Handsome Furs with Violens at PS14

Handsome Furs, Violens

Thursday, March 27, 2008


Better Than: Fighting the WMC crowds for a taste of something electronic.

While the majority of Miami pulsed to the sounds of big name DJs at Winter Music Conference, a select group of indie-minded hipsters enjoyed the electronic-infused rock show by Montreal duo Handsome Furs and the New York scenesters Violens.

Well, the crowd had a fine time, that is, once the doors finally opened. Apparently the venue experienced some setbacks -- a personal issue with the sound guy, and another with a bartender -- that left a handful of patient fans standing on the sidewalk outside like assholes for nearly an hour after 10 p.m., when doors were set to open. I’m not sure what was worse -- the waiting itself, or having to watch the smug hipster door girl smoke cigarettes and read a book while everyone in line wondered what the hell was going on. At least PS14’s street front wall is made up entirely of clear windows, so while the bands conducted sound check everyone outside could be entertained.

By midnight the venue was beginning to get totally packed with an audience ranging from college kids to 30-somethings wearing tight pants, hoodies, vintage dresses and accessorizing with lots of bright colorful plastic and other expected indie scene gear. Breaking this fashion mold, however, was a new hybrid of bro-meets-hipster. Think Newbalance kicks paired with white belts -- although I’m certainly not recommending it.

Violens took the stage for what ended up being a lackluster performance of sloppy ’90s alt-pop rock and synthesized walls of noise. This music wasn’t intriguing enough to be called experimental, or catchy enough to be pop. Climatic and bright guitars may have tried to keep the sound afloat, but the Morrissey vocal moments and overdone spirited collages of sound fell short of a wow-factor. By the time the band reached their would-be cathartic closer, most of the crowd had found better things to do, like playing pool, chatting at tables or even just starring into space.

Immediately after, Handsome Furs, husband and wife duo Dan Boeckner and Alexei Perry, started setting up their sparse gear of essentially a guitar and a keyboard and drum machine, which were placed on a simple folding table. Adding to the whole DIY theme of this gig was not only the fact that the band was setting up their own equipment, but that the gear was crammed onto the venue’s tiny stage, which usually hosts a DJ.

The lanky Boeckner donned black skinny jeans and a black and white tank, while Perry gave props to the ’80s era in geometric patterned high-waisted shorts jumpsuit, enormous gold earrings and black ankle boots.

Just before their show, the two were sitting at their makeshift merch table at one of the club’s booths and said they had affectionately dubbed this as their Spring Break Tour. They came to Florida two days early and spent most of their time at the Fort Lauderdale beach. Boeckner claimed to have a sunburn, but in reality he looked quite pasty according to South Florida standards. “All my frat brothers agree my sunburn looks good on me,” he jokingly told the audience when he got onstage.

The band opened their set with “Snakes on the Ladder” from the 2007 debut album, Plague Park. Their live energy was impressive and completely unexpected considering the somber and brooding pity party energy of the recording. Perry wholehearted pounded her right foot in time with the keys and drum machine -- so much that she removed her boots after the first song, performing the remainder of the set barefoot. Boeckner fiercely charged into his guitar chords and vocals, often practically knocking the mic stand off the stage (but then again, it was a really small stage).

The duo sipped vodka drinks (sometimes while playing) and appeased the shoegazers with songs “Dead + Rural,” “Dumb Animals,” “Sing! Captain” and a new selection, “Officer Parts.” With Boeckner’s Thom Yorke pain-ridden vocals and Perry’s nonstop pep and on-the-mark tempos, Handsome Furs kept onlookers in a hypnotic trance. The most intriguing performance of all was “Handsome Furs Hate This City,” which Boeckner explained, is about Toronto. The duo hovered around each other like they were playing a game of Twister on the keyboard and drum machine. At the song’s end they shared a kiss and introduced each other as husband and wife. It sounds kind of lame, but came across rather endearing, even to this hipster crowd. They closed the set with “The Radio’s Hot Sun,” which inspired one jerk in the crowd to start inappropriately moshing. He even briefly jumped onstage. The band didn’t seem to be bothered by this, but the arms-crossed meditative audience was rightfully annoyed. Despite this minor idiot audience member moment, by the end of the show, Handsome Furs had proven that they have a good balance of passion and playfulness, and they just might be to the electronic rock world what White Stripes are to indie garage rock.

Critic’s Notebook:

Personal Bias: I dig shows with a DIY vibe.

Random Detail: Boeckner is also the guitarist in the indie rock outfit Wolf Parade.

By the Way: Handsome Furs plan to start recording a second album this May, which planned for release in 2009. They claimed this show at PS14 inspired the record’s name, although they wouldn’t reveal what that was exactly.

--Monica Cady

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Jonathan Cunningham

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