Live at Cockpit on Wednesday, 31st October 2001
In the dereliction of Leeds' nineteenth century railway arches Mark Linkous coaxes sublime and fragile music from a tangled mass of leads and electrojunk from the twentieth. Wearing a farmer hat and a farmer night-out silk flowered shirt he broods and frets and achieves the impossible - melodic serenity out of chaos and pain.
He has a band of two men and two women who love and take care of him in this alien urban sink. They put flowers and drawings of the Halloween Bunny on all the mike stands and smile at everyone. They nourish his genius with deliciously subdued accompaniment on violin, bass, drums, metalophone, keyboard and guitars. The violin and backing vocals are ravishing, like swirls of a rich warm liquid.
They do twelve songs, with one break to fix the monitors and one to set up the encores. Six are from the new album "It's a Beautiful Life" and six are from other days. All bar Pig are in the new enchanted mood. Piano Fire, Saturday and Morning Hollow stand out. But it's all very tantalising and it could be overwhelming. So the lyrical charm is scuffed up and obscured with splinters of noise and held at a distance by rushes of underwater gurgling and FX with obscure bloodlines. He won't let the pleasure stand naked in the open for more than a moment. The crowd howl with glee after every song, and a drunken nurse hectors him for a song she can't remember the name of. He gives her a flower with a gracious bow and carries on doing what he came here for.
As a delayed encore, Pig is given a sound thrashing with a gnarled up guitar and World War III sound effects. It flays the demons of self-doubt and technocrash just in time for the finale. Homecoming Queen is a great song and the audience joyously sing big harmonies in the fade out. "I like it when you boys sing along" he confides sheepishly, with the second genuine smile of the evening. We just love him.
When you go to see Sparklehorse you know it won't be easy. You have to shut up and you have to listen. You know he could be brilliant. Tonight we came away in blissful and hopeful mood. It is a wonderful life.
Gemma Hayes did a great opener. Six songs from her resonant country voice and inventive guitar, with great backing on bass (a beautiful antique Gibson that was played like a dream) and drums. The drummer did very sweet harmonies. The crescendos were massive, her eyes shone and she smiled like a real person having a nice time. She's a bit thin too. So go buy "Work to a Calm" on Source Records and she might get a bite to eat.