October 25, 1997 16:13

CUNNING LINKOUS

Mark Linkous and band in concert at London's union Chapel

CUNNING LINKOUS
Sparklehorse

London Islington Union Chapel

First impressions? Christ! He's tall. We're so used to seeing Mark Linkous peddling his eccentricities from the waist-height confines of a wheelchair that the first of tonight's many surprises comes just seeing him walk, unaided, teetering and pin-thin on to the Union Chapel altar. The last time Sparklehorse prayed, sorry, played here, supporting the terminally dull Mazzy Star (a band who could make a motorway lay-by seem exciting), you could already sense a growing dissatisfaction within Linkous. 'Vivadixie...' was barely out of the womb, but already his mind was elsewhere.

This time he's accompanied by two new band members, guitarist Sophie Michalitsianos and bassist Andrew Hall (no, not the Camper Van Beethoven one), a radical reworking of the songs from 'Vivadixie...' and a raft of new songs that will more than settle the fears of those who wondered whether the twinkling brilliance of that debut would prove to be unrepeatable. Tonight, songs flow from them like light. As for old favourites, well, at times it's nigh impossible to detect where they end and the new ones begin, such is the level of reinvention. 'Spirit Ditch', 'Tears On Fresh Fruit' and 'Saturday' in particular are prodded, pulled about and, on occasion, turned inside out until they bear scant relation to anything you remember.

'Hammering The Cramps', the final encore, is stripped of its linear motion on record and given a coltish swagger undetectable in the original. As for the new stuff? Where most bands tend to identify, settle on and then move in a direction, Sparklehorse's only 'direction' seems to be outward. The concentric circles that mark Linkous' steady progress grow further and further apart with each new song unveiled tonight. One moment he's playfully flirting with the static grace of Satie's 'Trois Gymnopdies' (on a song called, I think, 'St Mary' or 'Cruel Sun'). The next, he's grappling depraved Stooges-esque guitar sounds to the ground and stamping them into the stage.

Sparklehorse's support dates with Radiohead have seemingly rubbed off on a couple of the new songs. One of them features a xylophone. Linkous, however, bypasses the overt prettiness of a 'No Surprises' and hammers out a maladjusted 'tune' that has more to do with a toddler's first attempt at expression than anything approaching competence. This childlike dreamism is compounded by the sight of water bubbles occasionally loosed from the top of the PA stack, and the sound of gunshots, train-whistles, the deliciously analogue clicking of clockwork toys and the maybe imagined sound of a horse neighing and whinnying.

That Linkous is juggling all these elements while never losing sight of the lonesome sun-baked country mythology at the heart of these charming songs is nothing short of astonishing. Having written and recorded the last word in lo-fi with 'Vivadixie...', Sparklehorse have shredded and restapled the blueprint. Really, all you can do is gasp.

Mat Smith

Read More On This Artist

More News
Lana Del Rey says 'Fucked My Way To The Top' song is commentary on public perception of...
Metallica's Lars Ulrich says Noel Gallagher inspired him to quit cocaine
Kasabian's Serge Pizzorno and comedian Noel Fielding tease 'Wu-Tang Clan' live shows
Ian Watkins loses appeal for reduced jail term; judges cite 'shocking depravity' of crimes
The Gaslight Anthem warn fans that new album 'Get Hurt' is 'completely...
Manic Street Preachers' Nicky Wire on Russell Brand's politics: 'Voting should be...
Former Lostprophets members thank fans for 'sticking with us' at first gig as No Devotion
Peaches Geldof died of heroin overdose, inquest hears
Slowdive announce two further reunion dates
James Murphy to score new Noah Baumbach film 'While We're Young'
Lostprophets' Ian Watkins to have jail term appeal considered
SBTRKT announces new album 'Wonder Where We Land' – hear first track now
Post-punkers The Pop Group announce first ever UK tour
The Raveonettes release surprise new album 'Pe'Ahi'
Alt-J score short film 'Wander With Me' - watch
Kasabian explain 'random' on-screen words during Glastonbury performance
St Vincent on Kurt Cobain's death: 'The wound is still raw' – watch
Paul Weller: 'I don't give a fuck about bands getting back together' – watch
Rivers Cuomo hints at Weezer UK gig and says new album helps keep the format alive
Tulisa to discuss drugs trial in new television documentary
Frankie & The Heartstrings cover Franz Ferdinand – listen
Jack White's label launches Third Man Books

More News

Comments

Please login to add your comment.

Featured Videos
Latest Tickets - Booking Now
 
Know Your NME
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
 

 
NME Store & Framed Prints
Most Read News
Popular This Week
Inside NME.COM
On NME.COM Today