@ Leeds Cockpit
It’s three years since I last saw Sparklehorse play over here and a lot longer since their first visit. Last time round was a bit lack-lustre, reliant on pre-arranged backing tracks and featuring a largely sad sounding Linkous. Mark Linkous is Sparklehorse and the band is just whoever he chooses. This time he seems to have chosen well.
There is a sense of occasion, he has a small but devout fanbase and a lot of just-interested people too. Linkous steps up to the mike, a bit shy looking and the band knocks out a couple of oldies. Sparklehorse has four albums of material to draw on and it is inevitable that the emotional history attached to those we’ve known longest will trigger the most connotations. So that warms us up nicely. By the time the fourth track rolls round we are back into a favourite from the first album – Hammering The Cramps. Once he has the crowd’s attention, Mark brings in the new ones from Dreamt For Light Years In The Belly Of A Mountain.
The band consists of a cool woman in black on steady, chilled bass guitar, keys, lap steel, guitar and a drummer tucked at the back. Linkous is up front in bright light and sunglasses, his hair blowing in the back-draft of a fan. Two mics face him – one for the treated voice he likes so much. He’s uncommunicative; he’s said before he’s not an entertainer. Songs come across as down-key, low tempo but cheerful, unlike the last sad live outing. There is more stretch to the playing. Things seem looser than on disc, more a sense of being songs than arrangements. These are not conventional songs, often lacking bridge, chorus, etc, they are in their own funny little world of mood. The guitar kicks a bit wilder and a few Neil Young moments sneak in. Sometimes he turns his guitar up so high that gentle picks reverberate. Painbirds gets recognition and signals the arrival of more ‘hits’. Things flit from deep slow meditative ramblings to fuzzed up speedy numbers like Someday I Will Treat You Good and Come On Come On.. The pedal steel shines on It’s A Sad And Beautiful World and maybe that should be Mark’s theme tune.
A very brief 45 minutes later the band is off. Fortunately he gives us a fifteen minute encore and still leaves us wanting more. Homecoming Queen gets people singing and the pump organ onstage gets played for the first and last time (no wonder he’s skint, dragging that around from town to town for one song a night).