DANIEL KNOX shuffles quietly to his piano, a small mouth appearing from the centre of his coarse beard. The Komedia’s dark basement is filled with a congregation of chairs, wine glasses and grown-up patrons, all watching intently. The understated Chicagoan announces quietly that: “this is a love song about a teacher I had in kindergarten”, striking up a few jaunty bars. The darkly comic tale follows our narrator sifting through her desk and rubbish bin, before deciding to spike her drink.
So opens a set littered with songs from new album â€˜Disaster’ and a tongue held firmly in cheek, Knox’s trademark quaver punctuated occasionally by a raspy kazoo. He expresses a concern of catching hepatitis after dropping the kazoo on the floor, which raises a ripple of laughter from the gloomy room. It’s almost as if someone has cast the late Bill Hicks as Lucifer in a surreal musical, then given him free reign to lament the world. His compositions cover revenge, money, love and fear, and at one point he even transforms a William Blake poem into quirky song.
Rennie and Brett are THE HANDSOME FAMILY, an odd couple of kooks from Albuquerque, New Mexico, with an unrivalled onstage chemistry. An extensive back catalogue of gems is whittled down to 14 songs for tonight’s organic performance. Their set is interspersed with the couple’s infamous banter, which couldn’t have been better scripted, and is undeniably borne from nearly two decades of partnership.
Brett is the teacher you wish you had on your side at college, stylish and sarcastic, while Rennie is the sweet hippy chick obsessed by spiders in her purse and wolves sitting in pine trees. “Our gigs are filled with scenarios,” she purrs, and it’s true: they appear from little more than a good-gestured heckle or off-the-cuff observation.
Throughout, she looks longingly towards Brett as he sings in his warm baritone, as an audience of voyeurs silently look on.
Their approach to music might be termed â€˜gothic Americana’: a fusion of folk, country, bluegrass and an overriding theme of personal tragedy. The duo is accompanied by a multi-instrumentalist who plays a mandolin, various percussive tools and tames a hand saw over his knee, and a drummer. The show ends comfortably with requests honoured and a very content crowd spilling out into the night.
Daniel Knox sang a line earlier: “No one promised paradise”, but, in a strange way, a faithful Brighton audience got very close tonight.