From the initial moment I found out it was happening this concert was most unusual. First the simple mystery of Sparklehorse playing a small bar a few blocks from my house. The club does occasionally have local bands perform, but I had no idea they would actually book a band this well known.
Add to that the strangeness of Daniel Johnston as the opening act. Danny is a legend here, one of our own, a singer from Austin with acknowledged mental problems, and had been seriously ill several months ago, with the assumption that his performing days were behind him now.
Of course the most peculiar aspects were that not only was Sparklehorse preparing to release a new CD after five years of inactivity, but that they were touring, and that they were coming to Houston, and they were playing a seedy little club just down the street, with virtually no publicity. I was quite prepared to discover the whole story was a prank until the John Cusack dude at our local alternative record shop actually pulled actual tickets out of the cash register.
While waiting in the line for admittance I overheard the couple behind me speaking in Russian. I casually glanced back to discover a stunningly fashionably dressed young lady who looked like an exotic super model, with date to match. They stood out against the sea of college uniformed blue jeans/tee shirts.
The Proletariat is a modest converted restaurant, from walls to low ceiling soaked entirely in clinically depressive flat black, a mid-sized room stuffed with an all ages crowd, from 14 to 50. The crowd, perhaps two hundred strong, stood around the small stage.
Danny J put on his usual disturbingly deranged show, his backup band consisting of a dude on electric guitar and four young college girls on drums, violin, viola and cello. What Fun! Especially considering I thought I would never see him live again. Danny was relaxed and in relatively good health, with just the mild tremors of Parkinson’s relegating the Les Paul Jr around his neck to being a mere stage prop.
Sparklehorse were a wonder, a revelation, performing at a level of integration between the four members that seemed almost spooky. I have all their albums, and they drew from them all, and the songs were far stronger live. Somehow, in that overpacked sweat-fest of a neighborhood dive they found total inspiration, and truly enjoyed playing for the mostly college-age crowd, Mark letting the entire audience sing the choruses of a number of his best known tunes.
Mark Linkous has a strangely calming, almost hypnotic stage presence that worked from the intense hard rockers to when he brought the songs down to an acoustic whisper, and the new songs from the upcoming CD showed a new maturity of songwriting. Standing eight feet away from Mark was a once in a lifetime opportunity to experience this band up close and oh so personal.
Simply stunning. I’m tempted to drive to Austin tomorrow to see the taping of Austin City Limits, or the club gig Saturday, but I know it will be sold out like this show was.
After Austin this weekend Sparklehorse are playing one final American show in NYC at the Bowery Ballroom this Tuesday, September 19, before sailing for Europe for the rest of the year.