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Concert Review by Dave Broom

Old Market, Brighton
October 9 2006

“The owls have been talking to me”. I think, Serge, that you’ll agree it is an arresting line. It was, I reckon, the one which first made me aware of the work of Mark Linkous aka Sparklehorse. Actually the ‘horse are a band but since he changes the lineup every few months let’s just accept the fact that it’s him.

Mark Linkous, second from the right
He’s been quiet of late.. five years between the last album [‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ .. ahh the irony of that title] to the new, rather gorgeous, ‘Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain’ .. just the odd appearance on a compilation (I recommend his heavily treated version of Johnny Cash’s ‘Dark as a Dungeon’) but he’s back in Brighton once more.
This is the third time I’ve headed along the beach to see him. The first was not long after his accident. You haven’t heard of the accident? He collapsed having self-medicated (let’s just draw the veil over what and how) and fell back, unconscious, with his legs trapped beneath him. This meant he was wheelchair bound for a long time, but he didn’t stop performing. After all, there was the first album to promote [that’s ‘vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot’] so he took to stage in wheelchair, complete with guitar fx pedals and a bottle of Jack Daniel’s on optic. The support I seem to recall was provided by the late lamented Neutral Milk Hotel [but we’ll do them some other time, shall we?]
The last time was about three years back on a humid summer night. He turned up with two other musicians, no record to promote, about three new songs and whispered his way through a quiet yet suitably warped set. The Welshman and I fell over him on our way out of the gig, slumped against the back wall sipping a bourbon.
And now? Well as you might be able to tell from that, you’re never quite sure what you’ll be getting with Mr Linkous. The rumour is however that he’s happy. According to Mrs Broom if this is indeed the case then I won’t like him any more, but the Welshman, Shaggy and I take the chance anyway.

Sparklehorse, 'Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain'
There is a support act whose name has escaped me even less than 12 hours after the event. Something to do with crayons is all I recall. The highlight of his set is a xylophone solo. Some people cheer. We get another beer. Sparklehorse take the stage. Drummer / pump organ player (not an easy task that), pedal steel, keyboards / guitar / vocals, bass and Mr Linkous nattily attired in a black suit and waistcoat and Aviator shades. The bass player is also in black and the keyboard player in a shiny dark mod suit. The drummer however rather lets the side down by wearing a white t-shirt, though I suspect a suit is somewhat restrictive when playing a drumkit. I can’t see the pedal steel player as he is at the back and obscured by the 6’ plus Linkous who smiles, shyly, says hello and gets cracking.
The rumours appear to be correct. It’s never easy to decipher his lyrics .. there were always a lot of spirits, birds, insects, animals flying around [horses still appear regularly .. and he’s got something about their teeth] but also ditches and (a)basements; now though there are frequent references to the sun. He appears to be enjoying himself. The music? Well where do we start. Think of Jim White’s skewed take on country/blues, stir in Neil Young [both pastoral and experimental], some gorgeous pop riffs, a nod to Jesus & Mary Chain, a touch of Tom Waits, some hints of the Flaming Lips/Mercury Rev (though he was an influence on both of their recent music rather than the other way round) .. and you might get an indication. Even in his thrashiest moments you can tell he has a way with a melody.
The set mixes all the new material with plunderings from the first three albums (vivadixie features heavily) so it is loud and heavy, then suddenly quietly introspective, vocals often barked through a distorting mike. He rounds it off.. as usual .. with ‘Homecoming Queen’ with the audience singing the chorus. “Weird, but deliciously so” is Shaggy’s take on it and for a man who makes parsnip beer that’s pretty much on the button. Welcome back Mr Linkous, glad that you’re happy. - Dave Broom

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