Handsome Furs: 15 March 2009 – Chicago

There was no rest for the weary on the Sunday night of St. Patrick’s Day weekend, as fans filled Chicago’s Empty Bottle to see their favorite husband and wife synth/punk duo the Handsome Furs. Those who had been going strong all weekend were visibly struggling, as tallboy PBR cans failed to spark much energy into the crowd as openers Young Turks unleashed incessant drone and feedback onto a crowd barely managing through pounding headaches. After the staggered 10:40 pm start of Kansas native D*R*I, it began to seem like the Furs may have gotten lost on the way to the venue. The sultry, retro soul of D*R*I brought some energy to the house, and thankfully, just a shade before midnight, the Handsome Furs bounded onto the stage.

As lead vocalist Dan Boeckner quickly shouldered his guitar and Alexei Perry readied her synths, the night suddenly came to life. The newly married couple brought an unaffected, sexy cool to the stage. Boeckner looked late ‘70s Bowery punk in a tight, sleeveless red T-shirt with emblazoned Soviet hammer and sickle, with Perry serving as the ultimate sex kitten with claws behind the drum machine and synths.

The Furs wasted no time with the pulsing rhythm of “Legal Tender”, the opening track off new album Face Control, sending the crowd into fits of pogo dancing. With Face Control, the band have ventured further from the bombastic, grandiose rock of Boeckner’s day job in Wolf Parade. In keeping with the spare minimalism of the group’s debut, Plague Park, the Furs have dug into the New Order playbook, balancing moodiness with pop giddiness, with just enough heartache in the lyrics to keep the whole thing from becoming a throwaway dance album.

What sets Face Control, and the Handsome Furs aesthetic, apart from dance-punk bands like !!! and the Faint, is the pleasant, laid back vibe of the music. Similar to the keyboard and synth relief Death Cab for Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard found in the Postal Service, Boeckner seems right at home fronting the Furs, never feeling like he’s reaching for an electro release he doesn’t quite understand. Technically, the performance was flawless, and it was a relief to see the duo run a tight ship, which was almost a literal interpretation of Face Control. Boeckner never drifted into noodling, and Perry was right with him on every subtle beat change and synth addition.

As if to make up for lost time, the band segued into songs with nary a moment to waste, and there was little time for stage or audience interaction. Perry bounced about like a six year old girl who has been promised a pony, and Boeckner smiled quickly between songs and wiped sweat from his brow. Taking a rare moment to breathe, Boeckner announced to the crowd, “Of all the intimidating places to play, LA, New York, and Chicago, you don’t really care about the people you play for in LA. In New York, it’s like 50/50. But Chicago, you guys are all really cool.” The sold out capacity turned the Bottle into a raging sweatbox, as the duo ripped through songs such as “Evangeline” and “I’m Confused”.

As Perry cued the opening synths to “All We Want, Baby, Is Everything” — the song an unapologetic ode to New Order’s “Temptation” — it became clear that the set was clearly a Face Control showcase. As 1 am approached, the band was clearly pleased with themselves and the night. The crowd roared, and before closing with the up-tempo “Dead + Rural” from Plague Park, Boeckner stole a kiss from Perry, who gazed back at him through a tangle of sweaty hair.