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
'The Wire' star Dominic West raps to promote new film 'Guillemot'
Bobby Shmurda pleads not guilty to conspiracy to commit murder
FKA Twigs performs new song 'Figure 8' during Melbourne live show – watch
The Black Keys perform 'Weight of Love' and 'Howlin' For You' on...
Death Cab For Cutie perform 'Black Sun' on 'Letterman' – watch
Passion Pit confirm details of new album 'Kindred'
Big Sean, Kanye West and Drake team up on 'Blessings' – listen
Noel Gallagher: 'I don't agree with U2 on free music, I'd happily put an extra...
Limp Bizkit guitarist criticises his own fans ahead ShipRocked cruise performance
Missy Elliott to join Katy Perry on stage during Super Bowl half-time show
Black Sabbath's Geezer Butler describes bar room brawl as 'unfortunate altercation'
Fall Out Boy say their new album is 'modern rock of the future'
Man faces ban from Parklife festival after 'boasting' about touting tickets
The Jesus And Mary Chain offer local bands support slots on their February UK tour
Suge Knight arrested over fatal hit-and-run incident in LA
Carl Barât 'totally rediscovered the guitar' making Jackals album
Pete Doherty: 'not making music with Amy Winehouse will haunt me to my dying day' –...
Swim Deep say new album is a 'zero-gravity gospel record for the masses'
Haim and Weezer to form supergroups for Jimmy Kimmel
Drake, Kendrick Lamar, Avicii and Nicki Minaj to appear at Wireless 2015
Ryan Jarman: 'Grown-ups still don't like The Cribs. That's absolutely...
Jay Z buys Norwegian music streaming service Wimp for £47million

More News

Comments

Please login to add your comment.

Latest Tickets - Booking Now
 
Know Your NME
 

 
NME Store & Framed Prints
Inside NME.COM