Sparks- Edinburgh HMV Picture House


Seeing Sparks live is like entering some surreal, wobbly, bizarre universe where resistance is futile and going along with the madness on display is the much more fun option. I honestly cannot recall a time when I had so much actual fun and laugh out loud moments at a gig and this is not decrying the serious musicality and ambitions of the band but merely confirming that they are having as much fun onstage as the audience are having. Hell, even Ron Mael broke from his trademark glassy eyed stare and deadpan expression and actually smiled on several occasions.

This latest tour is the latest in a seemingly effortless forty year career that has thrown up constant musical diversions whilst embracing several genres from the full throttle hysterical pop of their early glam incarnations through Moroder propelled disco nirvana up to the more fanciful chamber pop of their latest albums but somehow always managing to sound resolutely unlike anything other than Sparks. What makes this latest outing so interesting is that the two brothers are performing as a duo without a band, so with Ron on keyboards and Russell on vocals-as well as incessant bopping, bouncing and even skipping on occasion- they are performing  their very own individual version of ‘Sparks Unplugged’.

Kicking off with Ron performing a quick time medley of some of their best known numbers before Russell joins him and the show proper begins. Straight away the audience take them to their hearts and by the time they are into the third number ‘Metaphor’ from the Hello Young Lovers album they have them firmly in their grasp the infectious nature of their music- like a ‘posh Dead Kennedys’ was one remark from a friend after a particularly frantic excursion- carries you along in its sheer momentum. Great songs such as ‘Good Morning’ , ‘Do You Want To’, ‘My Baby’s Taking Me Home’ ‘Dick Around’ and a new number with an Ingmar Bergman theme which necessitated a costume change- the careful positioning of a beret to be precise- from Ron to create the right ambience.

The warmest reception and biggest cheers were reserved for the classic hits ‘Never Turn your Back on Mother Earth’ and  of course ‘This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Both of Us’ which due to the stripped back nature of the set required the assistance of the audience in pistol shots as well as the lone wolf howl midway through, which may well be the only time I have ever been in tune in my life. Ever!

The set proper finished with ‘When Do I Get to Sing My Way’ before the encores and the moment a large segment of the audience had probably been waiting for. The opening synth strains to one of the greatest pop songs ever ‘The Number One Song in Heaven’ wherein my vocal duties were required yet again to provide the burping bleep sounds which they were unable to replicate on the stage.

It was an amazing version which elongated the blissed out opening segment into a moment of tranced perfection. Wisely resisting the urge to move it up a gear halfway through, as the original demands, keeping it at that slower pace was a wise move as the frantic nature of the record may have sounded ridiculous if they attempted to attempt it with limited onstage resources. A slow building ‘Beat the Clock’ followed and we were even treated to the night’s highlight of Ron emerging from behind his keyboards to demonstrate his dance moves. ‘Two Hands One Mouth’ wrapped up the proceedings and it was all over.

A totally awesome night which could only have been bettered by the inclusion of ‘Something for the Girl with Everything’-although me and a friend performed our own version of it anyway- what amazed about the band was the effortless ease Russell’s vocals can swoop and soar whilst able to nuance the quieter moments. Ron’s keyboard skills were never in doubt  although he did excel in this stripped back format. I soooo want to get invited round to theirs- ‘Kimomo my House’– for a sing song around the piano  but spending a couple of hours in the company of such a weird, out there and totally wonderful duo as this will suffice. I am glad I share a universe with such people!

    • frank d.
    • October 22nd, 2012

    Great review above – and It was indeed a great performance from the brothers. In some ways it was all the better for just being voice and keyboard, showcasing and focussing on the songs themselves, bare of production and studio ear candy.
    I’ve seen Sparks live a few times before – including the ‘Kimono My House’ and Number One In Heaven’ nights of their 2008 21 nighter in London and they always excel in front of the assorted and disparate afficionados who come to enjoy their unique take on how music should be done. A thoroughly fab night out.

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