Sparklehorse - a setlist
Olympia, Dublin, Sept 4 '99
"A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a
horse.... ". So begins the brilliant debut album from American punk-country merchants, Sparklehorse. And, yes,
they manage to pull it off. I suppose it helps that the record went under the equally ridiculous title, Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot.
Quoting the Greatest Dead Englishman is par for the course for Mark Linkous, lead singer and leader of the band, as he's been known to call on the combined works of Dante, Walt Whitman and, ahem, Twisted Sister... His music is a literate blend of stoned, slacker country and coruscating guitar reminiscent of early nineties Neil Young. I became a fan of the band with their '98 follow-up, Good Morning Spider (not GoodMorningSpider) which was, if possible, even more idiosyncratic and hard to understand. Recorded shortly after Linkous had been paralysed for 6 months during a UK tour, the album is disturbing and powerful. An album where less is more. How could the band translate a sound that is often quiet as church mice in a live venue?
Faintly illuminated and the band quietly followed a rather lacklustre Frames on to the stage. The audience barely seemed to notice until Linkous cranked up the noise. Bass and drums were augmented by double bass and viola (and a Linkous guitar change for every song). His delicate, wispy voice was often lost in the caverns and I was struck by the thought that this was not the venue for Sparklehorse. The band obviously thrive on the audience being in their face; a slightly strange anomaly, as Linkous seems to want to hide himself behind his cowboy hat, black black shades and his guitar. He even hides his voice, singing through a voice-distortion box, adding to the melancholy of the music. It can be a beautiful sound and the band's acoustic numbers 'Junebug' and 'A Thousand Sparrows' stood out. The audience was invited onto the stage in a rare show of solidarity - Linkous laconically informing the Olympic Security that ".. stage-diving ain't very likely at a Sparklehorse show...".
Unfortunately, respect for the band was even more unlikely from this rather unforgiving Olympia audience with even Linkous remarking that "there's a lot of taking goin' on..." I have no problem if people don't want to watch the show. If you think it's shite, fair enough. But, instead of spoiling and tainting the evening for all, bugger off to the street or the bar. Here, I must point out that the Olympia's policy of closing the bar while the show is still going on doesn't help. Sort it out...
Also check out CLUAS reviews of other gigs that took place
under the 'Transmissions' banner. Namely Cornelius from Japan, Tindersticks from the UK & Can from Germany.
Have you checked out the stuff going down on the CLUAS Discussion Board?