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Sparklehorse Tours in Support of Its 1995 Album

March 5, 2007

The typical Thursday night collegiate crowd at Power Plant Live! was lighter than usual last week, but there was a healthy turnout at Rams Head Live for Sparklehorse. But then a cold, drizzly night is more likely to discourage miniskirted Towson sorostitutes than fans of a cultishly popular alt-rock band.

The last time we can remember Mark Linkous’ band playing anywhere in the Baltimore-Washington region was nearly eight years ago–and the guy lived in Virginia for most of that time. Usually waiting that long to see a band means it’s now pushing a new album and has long since stopped playing most of the songs you really want to hear. Oddly enough, Sparklehorse’s current tour favors earlier material over selections from last year’s Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain; Thursday night’s set included just two songs from the new record but seven from the band’s 1995 debut, Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot.

This only further cements the feeling of a lackluster contractual obligation that hung over last September’s release of Dreamt, which was padded with previously released B-sides. Hopefully, Linkous will come off less half-assed on his next project, a full-length collaboration with one of Dreamt‘s producers, Danger Mouse, which the two plan to call Danger Horse and which we plan to call Gnarls Sparkly.

Sparklehorse is essentially Linkous’ solo project in the studio, but on tour it’s a five-piece band, although the fifth piece, a pedal-steel player who also appeared to be a guitar tech, only played the twangier half of the night’s songs. A live show could easily evaporate the mystique of a band like Sparklehorse, whose recordings derive much of their character from the way everything sounds like it’s caked in dirt and distortion. But thankfully Linkous dressed in the exact kind of rumpled suit you’d expect, and he sang through two different microphones, each twisting his voice into the same distant, fuzzy tone found on the records.

The most popular feature of Thursday night’s show, though, was a little girl, maybe 5, who stood onstage for most of the band’s set and slowly bopped or swayed in time to the music. She was identified midway through the show as Odessa, and the drummer was identified as her father, but it’s unclear whether her interpretive dancing is a permanent fixture of the band’s current stage show or a special bonus for the Baltimore audience.

The band opened with the stately waltz of “Spirit Ditch” and didn’t dip into any remotely uptempo material until the fourth or fifth song. And even when they did tear into Pixies-esque rockers like “Pig” and “Tears on Fresh Fruit,” Linkous stood stock still and sang calmly while the mic effects warped his voice into a scream. Instead, it was the quieter material that bloomed onstage, from the pounding percussion at the end of “Apple Bed” to the bluesy take on “Painbirds.” Sparklehorse got on- and offstage in roughly an hour’s time–including encore–and it would’ve been nice if it played at least a couple more and actually hawked the new album. Still, the set-list choices, and the band’s flawless execution thereof, rightfully earned it enthusiastic applause at the end of the night, even if much of it was for little Odessa.