Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter / Sparklehorse: Webster Hall, New York, NY 2/28/07

During the final day of February 2007, New Yorkers were treated to Sparklehorse’s second show in Manhattan in six months, a feat considering it took 5 years for 2006’s astonishing Dreamt For Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain to finally be released. Mark Linkous, the man behind the moniker, brought his current incarnation of the band along with Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter, touring in support of Like, Love, Lust & The Open Halls of the Soul, her latest release.  Sykes has been around for some years and has claimed the adoration of many critics, but has yet to reach the same status with audiences.  While hoping to finally reach a larger audience opening for the rejuvenated Sparklehorse, her live performance is plagued with a tight performance undermined by the lack of memorable melodies.  While The Sweet Hereafter, including ex-Whickeytown guitarist Phil Wandshe, do a great job of backing Sykes, her songs fall victim to being indistinguishable.  Her short 45 minute set, seemed to last much longer as her songs waged on with the same tempo rarely speeding up or slowing down.

When Linkous and his crew finally took the stage, they did so with the quirky subtleness Linkous has rightfully gained cult status for, beginning with the slow, yet driving and completely entrancing ballad “Spirit Ditch.” Hailing from Linkous’ debut Vivadixiesumbarinetransmissionplot, surprisingly so did many of the songs that night, with only two coming from Good Morning Spider, including a rare live rendition of the hooky masterpiece “Pig,” as well as a few from 2001’s It’s a Wonderful Life.  The only song from his current release to sneak into the set was the grungy “It’s Not So Hard,” one of only a few songs that got the audience fully shaking their hips. The soft spoken Linkous broke form only a few times to apologize for his voice, due to a bout of the flu and to thank the audience for letting them play.  One major highlight of the night was current drummer, and frequent Linkous collaborator, Johnny Hott, who’s performance-art and restrained style of waving his sticks high above the kit, only to land softly, as his head waved around like a bobble head doll, contrasted well against the usually stiff and cutely-awkward Linkous.   Playing two single-song encores, the group came full circle finishing with the softly whispered “Homecoming Queen.”

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