Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Sparks. Two Hands, One Mouth Tour. Glasgow.

Sparks at The Arches, Glasgow.

Gig review 25.11.2013

I will confess that Sparks touring didn't send me racing to buy a ticket, but my brother is a big fan of all this stuff and he did. So when he ended up being hospitalised and unable to use the ticket it fell to me. All that I really knew of Sparks was that as a young kid I found their performances on Top of the Pops funny, the lively wee one doing all the singing, the dour, tall one with the Hitler moustache staring blankly at the camera whilst playing keyboard. The only song I could sing you would be to ape the falsetto singing of "This Town Ain't Big Enough For The Both Of Us".


 My brother though has kept closer tabs on them. He is a big fan of 80s electronic music, particularly anyone touched by Giorgio Moroder, as Sparks were in the late 70s, a move that finally pushed them into becoming an electronic duo. He recommended looking up later albums, such as Gratuitous Sax and Senseless Violins (1994). That then lead me to find the curio which is The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman (2009), a radio musical that relocates the Swedish director in Hollywood. The breadth of their music is pretty unique, from glam rock, to pop, to electronica and now musicals. I thought that they were always a duo of the brothers Ron and Russell Mael, but you can see on the TOTP footage above that they started out with drummers and guitarists too. I also thought that they were German or English, but although their influences are largely European and they spent a lot of their early career in England and Europe, they are from Los Angeles.

Listening to them in the car before seeing them live I was surprised to find that my kids liked them a lot. The repetitive, sometimes witty or acerbic lyrics seemed to strike a chord. My oldest son called them a modern version of Ivor Cutler, a longstanding favourite of my children. I think he might be on to something there.

Anyway, to The Arches on Monday night to see what a live show by Sparks turns out to be. Aged 65 and 68 years now, they look suspiciously similar to their appearance on footage from 40 years ago, particularly in singer Russell's jet black hair with Phil Oakey style asymmetrical cut. As they have been playing as Sparks since before my first birthday, it was not surprising that there was a mixture of ages amongst the crowd, which was pretty packed and plenty of them were singing along to all tunes.

Sparks take to the stage at The Arches, Glasgow
On stage they line up as you expect, Ron on keyboards (with the Roland brand changed to "Ronald"), Russell cavorting and singing. With the first five tracks they show that they are going to give us the full range of their stuff, with two from albums in 1974, one from 1979 and two from 2003. In the middle of the set Ron dons a beret to talk and play through a couple of tracks from their 22nd studio album, the 2009 pop musical "The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman" that they are working up as a film. This Town Ain't Big Enough For The Both Of Us felt slightly subdued but still got the crowd bouncing. They finished the set with (I think during Suburban Homeboy) Russell pushing Ron off the keyboards at the end. As he sheepishly moved centre stage he suddenly burst into the most ludicrous and unexpected dance, arms windmilling and crowd yelping. Their encore was more electronic and lively with some of the best stuff of the night (When Do I Get To Sing "My Way", Tryouts for the Human Race, The Number One Song In Heaven) and sent everyone home happy.

Sparks - Ron is about to cut loose
It is all a bit contrived and some of their stuff can be very middle of the road, but they were innovators in their day and inspirational for many musicians. I wouldn't ever criticise anyone for ploughing their own furrow. Good luck with the Ingmar Bergman thing!

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