Tuesday, 8 December 2009

709 SPARKLEHORSE, Smdge, Bristol Fleece, Wednesday 27 September 2006

It's been a good while since we've crossed paths with the erstwhile Mr. Linkous; one disappointing gig 5 years ago, and an abortive attempt to see them in 2003 foiled by a car breakdown. Since 2001, though, the 'Horse have done the thick end of bugger all, recordings-wise, and the last CD wasn't really much cop. Nevertheless, we were swayed by Tim's predictable enthusiasm for this Alt-Country maverick, so we joined him on the drive down this rainy evening to the Fleece, hitting the half-full venue at 8.15 following a roadworks delay.

The support were on at 8.30 - a painfully young and shy 4-piece which dabbled in introverted bedsit electronica and downbeat, deliberate tunesmithery, reminiscent of the Postal Service and even occasionally Wheat! A little samey and uber-gloomy at times, but definitely showing promise. I had to ask the singer the band's name at the end of their set, as he'd not bothered mentioning it! Also chatted influences with him - he was a fan of both Wheat and Mark Kraus' band Jr. Corduroy, apparently!

Sparklehorse, this loose collective built around Mark Linkous' lofty frame, ambled on at 9.30 to a rapturous welcome from the by-now-full Fleece. In an affable mood from the outset, Linkous said he'd hoped we'd enjoy the show, before kicking into a technically-beset new number, which required a couple of attempts to get going. The set developed from there into a showcase for the many shades of da 'Horse. Initially the set centred on deathly quiet, empty parched soundscapes, with "Spirit Ditch" evoking the Mojave Desert in its wide desolate expanse. A jagged "Painbirds" stuttered with poor sound, but an unexpected "Weird Sisters" was haunting and evocative. A sprinkling of new numbers, a couple of them even upbeat, boded well for the new CD.

Then a chugging, sing-along "Hammering The Cramps" was followed by the windswept anthemic rock of "Someday I Will Treat You Good" and encore "Happy Man"; two soaring, almost U2-like rockers, sandwiching the awesome hush of "Homecoming Queen". As I said, many shades! Overall then, a much better than anticipated evening from this Country maverick Linkous!

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