Wandering around HMV, it’s difficult to know where to find Sparks. Outcasts from the off, the band managed to follow the slipstream of both glam and disco – finding mainstream success but never acceptance. Remaining deeply individual, the band inspire a certain kind of dogged devotion from their unique, long serving fan base.
It’s a devotion which sees Bush Hall packed to the rafters for this show. Seemingly the first in a series of concerts, Sparks familial duo Ron and Russell Mael have (temporarily) cast aside their band to re-work material from their back catalogue. Using just piano and voice, it’s a brave move but one that causes ripples of excitement long before the duo emerge onstage.
Refusing to use lights or backing visuals, Sparks walk onto the platform against pure, white light. Ron Mael sits at his keyboard, gently toying with refrains from classic singles as fans excitedly shout out the titles. When brother Russell joins him, the murmur becomes as roar as the pair belt through ‘Metaphor’.
Almost immediately, any fears about the show or how the material would translate to the format are abated. The sheer, natural showmanship of Sparks shines through, with track after classic track reformatted in a brave, distinct manner.
Sure, some tracks do lose something in translation. Equally, though, Sparks are able to bring something new, something unexpected to each rendition. Perusing their back catalogue, the band constantly remind us that – at heart – they write songs. Never sticking to one genre, their unique sense of individuality shines through.
Equal parts European and New World, high brow and pop culture, Noel Coward and Bertolt Brecht the pair’s output has a difficult to trace thread running through it. Tonight, though, that thread rings loud and clear – from hit single ‘This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us’ to ‘The Seduction Of Ingmar Bergman’.
Coaxed back onstage for an encore, a single light beams against a low hanging disco ball showering the hall in dots of white. It’s a beautiful moment, allowing Sparks to motion themselves into ‘Number One Song In Heaven’. Gently toying with the production, Ron and Russell Mael retain the muscle, the gravitas of the original but add a rare sparsity. Graciously thanking the crowd for their support, Sparks leave behind yet another unusual, inventive moment in their career. Leaving the Bush Hall you wonder: couldn’t they have just remained onstage all night and forever?
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Sparks are set to return in October. Dates are as follows:
21 Edinburgh Picture House
22 Manchester Ritz
23 Birmingham Institute
25 Brighton Dome
26 London The Barbican