An earlier tour supporting the hairy southern rockers the Black Crowes did little to put the recalcitrant Californian country dreamboats Beachwood Sparks at their ease, or in their proper context. Tonight, they overcome the problem with the simple expedient of forming their own support act.
The Tyde comprises the Sparks mainmen Chris Gunst, David Scher and Brent Rademaker, with Rademaker's brother, Darren, as front man, whose Anglophile leanings ensure a shift of the continental plates that underpin the Sparks's lavish Americana. Darren's voice is pitched between the tortured whine of the Only Ones' Peter Perrett and the reedy yearning of Mercury Rev's Jonathan Donahue. But with Eurocentric influences that range from the techno-age inventions of the Kraut-rockers Can to the off-key musing of the early-Eighties British indie cult Felt, the Tyde hatch a string of fetching hybrids.
Their closing number, "Silver's OK Michelle", is a lovelorn plea that combines bar-room lament with a stoner-rock workout to create a climactic My Bloody Valentine-style meltdown. When it's over, the Sparks have handed themselves a "How to follow that?" quandary.
Beachwood Sparks are a band on a mission – to free themselves from the conservative constraints of the label "alt.country revivalists". Last year's acclaimed album, When We Were Trees, laced Burritos-style twang with high-flown psychedelia; the recent mini-album, Make the Robot Cowboys Cry, includes songs about Darwin ("Galapagos") and New World discovery ("Ponce De Leon").
With Scher sitting centre stage behind a valve synthesiser, and the others studiously bent over lap steels, guitar, trap drums and banjos, Beachwood Sparks are hardly the most animated of performers. But their creation of a magical musical landscape, where The Grand Ole Opry is reimagined as a prefabricated neon-lit theatre, more than compensates for their inaction.
Whereas the Tyde's songbook focuses on the staples of love and romance, the Sparks' pie-eyed musings reflect their cosmic search. Both set-ups favour suite-like constructions; accordingly, a Sparks song can begin with a wistful, one-note harmonica line that recalls a lonesome cowboy on the plains and end up as a wired-to-the-moon horse opera with the entire band galvanised into a pulverising reclamation of discarded musical roots. Though it was undoubtably an impressive display, their set seemed to lack the careful symmetry of their albums as it progressed, and the group was not quite able to assume the improvisational mastery of the Grateful Dead, one of their more obvious influences.
But, just when it seemed they had given themselves an act too tough to follow, they kicked into the astonishing "Light Shines on Me". It is the Sparks in excelcis – a secular gospel song bathed in four-part harmonies, then a synthesised whoosh to where the Velvet Underground host Hank Williams's Health and Happiness Show in outer space. At which point, the listener can only reflect that the Tyde aren't the only band with a singular line in intergenerational musical hybrids.
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