Call it the Yoko Ono effect, but the husband/wife rock ‘n’ roll tag team has long been an endangered species, as if to be married in life and song were a surefire way to career and personal carnage. But boldly and perhaps blinded by the love, a few musical couples march forth without regard for the sometimes-toxic business/pleasure tonic. And a few do it with such astounding vigor and energy that it reinstills a bit of faith in the quasi-Faustian bargain.
We can safely report all seems to be healthy in the musical marriage of Handsome Furs, the loverly duo consisting of former Wolf Parade co-bandleader Dan Boeckner and wife Alexei Perry. The pair played a memorable and thoroughly danceable set at Slim’s on Saturday night, with unabashed flits of PDA sprinkled throughout, in case there was any doubt about who would be bedding whom after the show. Refreshingly, there is no such thing as shame in their world, and it comes through in their sound; Perry’s synths thrust forth over Boeckner’s spazzy guitar work and Springsteen-y vocal urgings, resulting in a ridiculously accessible pop framework.
Perry, outfitted in a sporty red mid-drift/high-waisted-shorts combo to match her disheveled red hair and lipstick, was by far the more animated half onstage, treating us to the occasional sideways leg kick and embarrassing story. “I treat San Francisco like it’s the most romantic place on earth,” she confided early on, revealing that this was where she — she — proposed to Boeckner. Her cleanly cut husband reminded her that they were near the Tenderloin, not exactly where we picture white-clothed lovers riding on horseback.
The duo relied heavily on cuts from its two most recent albums, shunning the more indie-rocking, Wolf Parade-compatible aesthetic of its debut album, Plague Park. Songs like “Memories from the Future” and “What About Us,” from their June release Sound Kapital (hear both songs here), work in heavy electro synth beats and Boeckner’s assured musings, feeling downright anthemic by the time we’d approached the second chorus of each. “Serve the People,” also off Sound Kapital, closed the night in similarly epic fashion. For a second, I thought I was hearing a cover of MIA’s “Paper Planes,” but closer attention reveals a song about the Chinese government (“serve the people” is a common refrain in China), as Boeckner begs to differ from the party line, opining “you can’t serve the people.”
Politics does weave its way into the band’s songwriting, especially that of the far east, which they have confronted first-hand, even conducting exercises in citizen journalism for CNN in the occasional series “Indie Asia." But there was no soapboxing on this night, only a lot of love from two musical minds very much in sync and living happily on the dance pop rock fringes. They drove the point home when Boeckner introduced the fist-pumping synth riffer "Repatriated" (which kind of sounds like the Wolf Parade riffer "Hearts on Fire") toward the end of the set: "This song's about being on tour forever and not wanting to do anything else." The Handsome Furs dream, it seems, has not been deferred.