Sparklehorse – Whelans (Dublin, Ireland)
A microphone giving a kind of CB effect hangs in front of Sparklehorse’s singer-songwriter, Mark Linkous. He alternates between this and an ordinary one, giving his voice a dual life. A mixer with numerous knobs lies at his feet. Reproducing the sound of their recordings was never going to be easy, but with the help of multi-instrumentalists Joan Wasser, Sophie Michelitsianos and Margaret White, Sparklehorse make a pretty good stab at it. Throughout the evening, a banjo, a xylophone and even a child’s plastic saxophone are performed by various members.
Linkous apologizes for having the flu as he coughs between songs, soldiering on regardless. It doesn’t seem to affect his voice too badly as the band rocks out on songs such as “Piano Fire”. Most of the set, however, consists of slow, dreamy affairs. Songs such as “Sea Of Teeth” and “It’s A Wonderful Life” have an ethereal, ghostlike quality. They purposely sound old and weathered, the layers of eerie distortion like layers of dust on an old photo album. Occasionally this creates a problem, as some of the songs are so quiet that any noise whatsoever from the audience can be heard over the music.
Linkous’ lyrics are poetic, infused occasionally with a Southern gothic flavor. “I will return here one day and dig up my books from the clay”, he sings on “Eyepennies”. His songs are full of evocative imagery: “The owls have been talking to me but I’m sworn to secrecy.” Elsewhere, on the mournful “Apple Bed”, Linkous wishes he had “a horse’s head, a tiger’s heart.”
For the encore, they treat the crowd to favorites “Cow” and “Hammering The Cramps”, then return once more to play “Homecoming Queen”, seeming astonished when the crowd sings along. Compelling when quiet, exhilarating when loud, Sparklehorse is never less than fascinating.