Sparklehorse – The Middle East Upstairs (Cambridge, MA)
Monday night. It’s cold. I have one operational windshield wiper, and one headlight. I’m very sick of seeing snow. In this case, it’s that dirty snow that builds up on the sidewalks after the plows have their way. It’s five feet of dirty snow sitting outside, and me with a bad attitude and a sore foot inside the Middle East on Monday, a day that’s more or less useless itself.
Then Mark Linkous shows up with his mirrored sequin jacket and bright red cowboy hat to take my Monday blues away. Go ahead, Linkous, just try to make me feel better, I dare ya. Set up your 10 different pedals and your banjos and your lap steels and why the hell did you bring a tape recorder anyway?
Linkous is one of these guys who must sit around at home in Virginia and just fool around with stuff. You know what I mean? Squeeze things, rip things, throw things, and crush things. On the new Sparklehorse album vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot, Linkous plays everything from duct tape to size 11 Red Wings. And it works.
On this night, Sparklhorse was superb. “Sad & Beautiful World” is one of the most haunting, dark tunes I’ve heard in years, but it left me in awe at how, well, beautiful this song is. The band somehow manages to force you to listen to Linkous’ voice, but when the song is over you marvel at the music. It’s damn near surreal. And that was only the second song of the set. Later, we found out what the tape recorder was for: During “Spirit Ditch”, Linkous played an answering machine message into the microphone. The message was from his mother about a dream she had. Just like everything else, it worked.
The band whipped out banjo and lap steel for striking renditions of the country-lo-fi “Gasoline Horseys” and “Heart Of Darkness”, respectively. And when they rocked, it went from surreal to pure sonic. “Tears on Fresh Fruit” and “Rainmaker” proved welcome interludes from the slower tunes, which made them sound even better. The closing tune, the loud and uproarious “Someday I Will Treat You Good”, left me a believer that this band could mix it up with the best of them.
When it was over, I walked out onto the street, past the dirty snow and through the howling winds, and smiled. I was happy, and that was OK, because by then it was Tuesday.