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Monday, February 26th, 2007

Don't Take My Sunshine Away

Mark Linkous and Sparklehorse have been near the top of my ever-shrinking list of current acts who I’d never seen live and could realistically expect to for a while, but for the longest while – namely the five years following 2001’s It’s A Wonderful Life – it seemed for a long while that the odds of there being new material let alone a tour to promote were getting more and more distant. But lo and behold, Fall 2006 brought us the long-awaited Dreamt For Light Years In The Belly Of A Mountain and Winter 2007 the North American tour to support so to say that my anticipation was high for Friday night’s show at the Mod Club would be something of an understatement.

I was expecting a rather smouldering, low-key set from openers Jesse Sykes & The Sweet Hereafter – at their show at the Rivoli in September 2004, Sykes spent pretty much their whole show seated and with her long hair hanging down in front of her face. Thankfully, Sykes has since discovered the benefits of being upright and their set was not only performed standing, but with a surprising and welcome amount of energy. Drawing largely from their new album Like, Love, Lust & The Open Halls of the Soul, they were really rather terrific. I mentioned last week how complimentary Sykes’ hickory-smoked voice and Phil Wandscher’s twang-tacular guitar were on the record – live, it’s even moreso with he lifting up her earthy songwriting and she grounding his runaway fretwork.

Conventional wisdom dictates that when you’re touring in support of a new record, you play material from that record. But as anyone who’s followed his career knows, Mark Linkous is hardly conventional. Instead, on this tour Sparklehorse have been drawing from the greatest hits playbook and the set list leaned far more heavily on the back catalog, Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot and Good Morning Spider in particular – Light Years was only represented by a couple of songs (give or take, I don’t have an actual copy of the set list) Whatever the reasoning – maybe the early stuff is easier or more interesting to play live – I wasn’t complaining since I’d never heard any of it live before and being reintroduced to the older songs, which I haven’t listened to much lately, was a treat.

On record, the snap, crackle and hiss production is a fundamental part of the Sparklehorse vibe, creating the distant, otherworldly vibe that’s the band’s trademark. But trying to reproduce that atmosphere live would be folly so the like ‘Horse experience strips away that AM radio filter and instead sounds a good deal fuller and more conventionally “rock” than one might expect but which still sounded marvelous. And for one with such a well-chronicled distaste for touring and generally being in public, Linkous exuded no small amount of onstage charisma (helped out by the fan at the front of the stage blowing his hair around all rock star-like) even if he didn’t seem especially comfortable being up there.

And maybe it’s that unease that’s the reason behind the suprising and somewhat disappointing brevity of the set – even including the one-song encore, Sparklehorse still played for less than an hour. Considering the catalog-spanning nature of the set list, there was certainly no shortage of material to draw on but no – with a minimum of banter and downtime between songs, they barreled through their set list, said their thank yous and were gone. To be fair, their efficiency meant that they still played a full set’s worth of material – it’s just that after waiting so long to see them, I was sad to see them gone so soon and with BrooklynVegan reporting that Sparklehorse may be a casualty of label mergers (which wouldn’t surprise me at all), who knows when they’ll be back?

Sparklehorse’s tour continues through next week and they’re also slated to headline the Astralwerks showcase at SxSW on Thursday, March 15 at Antone’s, for which I note that the organizers have allotted an hour and a half. Hope they’ve got some DJs handy. The News Observer talks to Linkous in advance of his sort-of homecoming show in North Carolina and Minnesota Public Radio has a studio session with the band from last week available to stream or download.

Photos: Sparklehorse, Jesse Sykes & The Sweet Hereafter @ The Mod Club – February 23, 2007
MP3: Sparklehorse – “Shade And Honey”
MP3: Jesse Sykes & The Sweet Hereafter – “LLL”
Stream: Sparklehorse – “Don’t Take My Sunshine Away” (ASX)
Stream: Jesse Sykes & The Sweet Hereafter / Like, Love, Lust & The Open Halls of the Soul
MySpace: Sparklehorse
MySpace: Jesse Sykes & The Sweet Hereafter

The Guardian gets a tour of Denton, Texas from native sons Midlake.

Drowned In Sound and The Event Guide get acquainted with The Hold Steady, who wrap up their Europe-demolishing tour in Dublin tomorrow.

The Enquirer Q’s, Richard Thompson A’s.

Ex-Refreshment and current Peacemaker Roger Clyne will be in town on April 30 for a show at the Horseshoe, though it’s unclear if it’s with band or just him listings indicate it’s Clyne & The Peacemakers – full band goodness. I used to love The Refreshments and still think they deserve better than to be forever known as the band that did the theme to King Of The Hill, though I certainly don’t begrudge them the cheques that surely brings in. Anyway, tickets for that are $10.50 and on May 12, Swedes Mando Diao are at the ‘Shoe with Pop Levi and The Films for an evening of too-tight pants rock.

Toronto’s Tokyo Police Club are next up in the Daytrotter queue, offering up both an interview and downloadable studio session. There’s a new song in there that sounds pretty dang good and with them having sold out two dates at the Mod Club for April, it looks like 2007 is the year that they grow into the buzz and expectations that’ve surrounded them for the last few years. Good on them.

The National’s new album has a name – look for Boxer May 22. The label people at Beggars say it’s amazing, and even though it’s their job to do so, I believe ’em.

PopMatters celebrates the coelacanth. No, it’s not a band. It’s a fish.

If you stopped by this weekend or tried to, sorry about the downtime. Entirely out of my control but my hosting seems to be behaving itself now. Knock on wood.

Update: I KNOCKED ON WOOD, GODDAMMIT (posted at 6:30PM after another five hours of downtime).

By : Frank Yang at 8:24 am
Category: Uncategorized
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  1. erik smith says:

    Hey Frank –
    I actually got a copy of the setlist from the Sparklehorse show on Friday after talking to you. There were two songs on the setlist for the encore, but they only played the first which I thought was odd.

  2. Frank says:

    interesting – could you post the set list here when you have a chance? Very curious what the actual per-album breakdown of the set was.

    And I’d heard the band was ill last week, it could be that they just weren’t up to playing for longer.

  3. Mark says:

    As much as I liked the Sparklehorse set, I was more impressed by Jesse Sykes & The Sweet Hereafter. She’d be a better live act if she relaxed a bit more and stopped saying, "I know you guys have no idea who we are, but…". It seemed most of the people around me we captivated by her songwriting, her voice and her stellar band, including the much underrated guitarist, Phil Wandscher. "Rather terrific", indeed.

  4. thomaus says:

    Okay this is odd. In the past 24 hours I’ve seen three mentions of Daytrotter. The Casper and the Cookies website (which sent me there); Wired Magazine article; and lastly Chromewaves. Okay, it’s your fifteenth mention of Daytrotter, buy hey, I’m a bit thick for not noticing it until now. What a wonderful site. I particularly liked the Oakley Hall and and Shearwater sessions.

    What kind of seat(s) did you get for Arcade Fire? Or are you ‘press’? At one second after noon Ticketmaster was kind enough to sell us four in the upper balcony (gallery).

  5. Brads says:

    Mr. Linkous has indeed been struggling with the flu. He mentioned it last night in Boston when he apologized for his singing on certain songs (which, frankly, I’d never have noticed). It was a brilliant show, although they did cut a song from our encore as well.

    Setlist – http://flickr.com/photos/bs

  6. px says:

    i too have been waiting to see mark et al since it’s a wonderful life and agree wholeheartedly that the set was exceptional for its quality and its brevity.

    awesome about the former, too bad about the latter.

  7. J.P. says:

    Hey, Frank. Re Roger Clyne: He puts on an awesome show with or without the Peacemakers, so I’d urge you to check him/them out if you’re able. Don’t know how familiar you are with his Peacemaker catalog, but I’d think it’s right up your alley. Americana-tinged rock with a storytelling vibe. It’s a little more twangy than the Refreshments’ stuff, with a definite Southwestern vibe and a lotta hooks. He’s got a new release coming out next month(?), but if you’re interested, I’d recommend picking up "Americano!" as it’s a good overview of the band’s sound. The live albums are good also.