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Handsome Furs at Johnny Brenda’s – 7/9/09

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Alexi Perry and Dan Boeckner are in love.

How do I know? Besides the obvious, my girlfriend tells me. “She loves him so much,” she says to me in Johnny Brenda’s crowded upstairs concert hall.

How does she know? The Montreal-based husband-wife duo (Boeckner on guitar and lyrics, Perry on synthesizer and drum machine) will pose with each other throughout their show, kiss and point to corresponding lyrics in songs like “Radio Kaliningrad”: “My home is you/My home on the other side.”

Immediately and with little introduction, the two-piece Handsome Furs bring the crowd to a fused full-body dance convulsion with the cacophonous beats of “Legal Tender”, the first song off their new album.

Back in 2005, the two were dating and Boeckner was singer and guitarist for Canadian indie rock band Wolf Parade (He still is). Combining a post-punk New Order and Joy Division with a more mainstream rock sound reminiscent of mid-90s grunge, they decided to create an somewhat indefinable, minimalist dance rock sound. The two claim the name “Handsome Furs” comes from the title of a short story Perry was writing at the time of the band’s conception.

They signed to Seattle-based Sup Pop records in 2006, and released their first album, Plague Park, in 2007. While many of Plague Park’s tracks could be featured on a hipster dance floor, it’s a subtle acoustic-electric mix of disenchanted monotone machinesque fuzz beats and a pedal-heavy guitar at its core. Boeckner’s Cobain-inspired voice (In Utero era) takes its time on Plague Park, slowly building itself up alongside his hazy guitars and metronome head-bobbing beats. In 2009, they released Face Control, a more intense electric dance rock album. Boeckner uses his voice with greater range, takes on 60s and 70s rock-inspired riffs, and Perry seems to have combined the sound with Eastern European dance noise beats.

While traveling the world on tour, the duo took note of party requirements in Russia. In Moscow, those who want to go out are required to pay bars up-front through PayPal or in cash to reserve a table – but the seat still isn’t guaranteed. Bouncers are then allowed to turn patrons away based on their appearance. The term for this is “Face Control.”

“This band is completely based, aesthetically and otherwise,” Dan Boeckner told Haukur S Magnússon for their Sup Pop press release, “on traveling, on absorbing places and regurgitating them in music.”

“I love your city!” Perry exclaims as the crowd cheers between songs. She plays her keyboard with about as much intensity as one could, flipping her left leg back and leaning over, her bleached blond hair drenched in sweat as she stands on one leg, bouncing up and down on a heel.

Boeckner takes his guitar off before Perry breaks out into the slow, droning synthesized organ of “Handsome Furs Hate This City” off Plague Park. They assure us it’s not about our city, as that would have negated Perry’s earlier statement.

Standing beside his wife, Boeckner plays the synthesizer’s main chorus line as Perry fiddles with dials on the machine’s northern piece. After the mechanical drum beats come in, Boeckner walks the three feet back to his guitar, straps it on, and convulsingly flares his forearm to a steady blur of hand, singing, “We hate this city, filled it’s drone.”

“We have X amount of commercial potential,” Alexi Perry told Sup Pop writer Haukur S. Magnusson over a screwdriver. “It’s not a lot, but enough to sustain two lives as much as two minimum wage jobs would or even more. So we can afford to make decisions like using the proceeds from an L.A. show to go to Serbia. If you look at it from a financial point of view, we do stupid, stupid tours. Then again, we’re not financially-minded. We’d rather extend ourselves as far as we can to absorb the world, life and experience.”

As the main set concludes, Perry and Boeckner pose on the stage’s floor in an upside down Spider Man-esque kiss. We cheer them on for an encore, and when they come back out, Perry tells everyone to settle down. She might cry.

“Today,” Boeckner says, “is actually our second wedding anniversary.”

Johnny Brenda’s – 2701 Frankford Avenue
Handsome Furs – www.handsomefurs.com, myspace.com/handsomefurs

Video, “I’m Confused”, off Face Control: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MS5mbeXHOmo