THE LAST TIME we were hanging around these parts was for a theatrical production of Dracula on ‘bloody’ Valentine’s Day back in February. We mention this because it was supposed to be a tension-filled performance which attempted to capture the horror of Bram Stoker’s original. In the end, however, it was such a desperately shoddy affair that the gore-sniffing audience ended up in the wrong kind of stitches. There’s a lesson for us all in there.
And so here comes Mark Linkous with his Sparklehorse troupe, a downtrodden hero in the smouldering spotlight of a shabby theatre. He looks small, does Mark, which may or may not be anything to do with the fact that we are seated in the Utterly Uppermost Part of The Upper Gallery. But there are other people up here in the clouds muttering about Linkous being “cool as shit”, and various reviewers are still reeling from the despairing genius of Sparklehorse’s new ‘Good Morning Spider’ opus, so as long as his band doesn’t turn out to be a bunch of third-rate thespians with extraordinarily bad Transylvanian accents, things should be OK.
Linkous has a back-up team of three with him for this journey. And a stripped-down, roughed-up trio it is, too. As you might possibly expect from a man who made one album on the back of a smack habit and a second having actually shuffled off this mortal coil for a moment, a Sparklehorse show is not one which arrives stardusted with sparkling wit and [I]bonhomie[/I].
Rather, it is such an insular experience even the Hackney posse’s finest encouraging whoops and hollers fail to drag any more than a mumbled ‘thanks’ from the Linkous himself. See, he’s got some serious concentrating to do. Not on perfecting his muse, though. Oh no. Rather, Mark’s energies are channelled into writing great tunes and then roughing them up so they sound battered and bruised and bewildered and about as commercially viable as socks made from roast chicken crisps. Little wonder that Thom Yorke is such a fan.
His guitar is distorted. His voice is distorted. His face is distorted. Frankly, if they’re anything like the exterior, his insides must look like they’re being beamed down to Planet Upset in [I]Star Trek[/I]. His set careers from full-on garage-kicking rage, as evinced by the likes of ‘Pig’ and ‘Chaos Of The Galaxy’, to the drowsy likes of ‘Homecoming Queen’. It can be angry. It can be abstract. It can verge on unbearable. It is frequently nothing more (or less) than a whole mess of blues, and flies by with all the grace of a shot albatross.
Come the close we find Linkous sitting cross-legged, far, far away, in the middle of the Empire stage, fiddling with his guitar-effects pedals. For a brief disconcerting moment he looks like a small boy playing with his train set. And then we’re snapped back into his offbeat reality of dusty drones and cranky riffs, of intense miserablism and mass confusion. We may not know how the fuck we should feel, but as long as it isn’t anything like Mark Linkous we reckon we should be OK. For now.