With their unfailing ennui, Brett and Rennie Spark seem to prefer storm cloud to silver lining. As the Handsome Family, the husband-and-wife songwriting team has been spinning gloomy yarns for the better part of a decade, slowly attracting an insatiable cult following with its postmodern murder ballads and poetic, Faulknerian gloom. These narratives are populated by a cast of shadowy characters and backed by rickety instrumental arrangements combining Dust Bowl staples (banjo, acoustic guitar, and bowed saw) with wispy pedal steel and heart-wrenching harmonies. And though the group suffers an utter lack of sunny cheer, the magic of the Family lies in its ability to transform stories of tragedy into transcendent celebrations of life, love, and loss.
The band enjoys a two-night stand with quality Americana stalwart Richard Buckner and polka-funkers the Buttless Chaps opening at 9:30 on Saturday and 9 on Sunday at the Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St. (at Missouri), S.F. Admission is $15; call 621-4455 or visit www.bottomofthehill.com.
-- Nate Cavalieri
Hot Hot Hot
Hey all you efficiency-minded, weight-conscious foodies: A local South Asian spot's got an afternoon with your name on it. The New Delhi Restaurant's "Spicy Rhythms" includes a 45-minute Indian cooking lesson with master chef Ranjan Dey, followed by a workshop in the Northern Indian dance form bhangra, and capped off by a champagne brunch featuring dishes from the cooking class. Energy out, tasty fuel in -- now that's smart living. "Spicy Rhythms" begins at 1:30 p.m. at New Delhi, 160 Ellis (at Mason), S.F. Admission is $65; call 397-8470 or visit www.newdelhirestaurant.com.
-- Ron Nachmann
Many artists try to be unusual, but get this: In operation since 1996, Vile Jelly Theatre has no Web site. That, friends, is deeply bizarre. What, are composer/actor Kevin Caulfield and puppet-maker Gael Kanievsky too busy creating marionette operas to care about the Internet? The pair's latest production, Figs part one, builds on the company's penchant for exposing classical-opera-singing Japanese bunraku-based puppets to smutty plot points. Caulfield tells us that his music "[borrows] from the 12-tone school of Schoenberg and Webern, with a dash of Stravinskian theatricality. ... In other words, it is not a rock opera." It is, however, scheduled to include live chamber music, a libretto based on Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra, and the aesthetic influence of twisted filmmaker Jan Svankmajer, starting at 8 p.m. (also Jan. 30-31) at Goat Hall, 400 Missouri (at 19th Street), S.F. Admission is $10; call 864-6123.
-- Hiya Swanhuyser