Click here for home page

Click here

Contact Us | Customer Information | Privacy Policy | Audio Help

Main Menu
Submit a review
Sign up for newsletter
Album Reviews
Gig reviews
Special features
Get Your EMail Address
Submit your website
Gig Reviews...

Just witnessed your best live gig?..send us a review!

SPARKS London, Shepherds Bush Empire 13 June 2008

What can you say about a band that has just produced three of their best albums some 37 years into their career and then embarked on the massive goal of playing their entire 20 album back catalogue leading into the premiere of their new album, in little under a month?

The answer I suppose lies in the fact that the Mael brothers Ron (he of the moustache) and singer Russell remain a creative source for whom music is but one aspect of their conceptual art which also draws on mime, video, mock choreography, narration and audience participation as a means to a remarkable end.

So it was that the brothers, band plus mime troupe and later a brass section gathered to present Spark’s latest opus, ‘Exotic Creatures of the Deep’. And what a show it was. Split into the full presentation of the new album and an al fresco second set that comprised songs voted for by the fans, Sparks successfully teased out the very best aspects of high art rock.

Opening with the album’s Beatles styl e intro, harmonised by six white clad nymphs pushing mic’d up shopping trolleys, the lights came up to reveal brother Ron lying on a divan who startlingly jumped up to take his place behind his keyboards. This was surprising because you might have imagined it to have been Russell the vocalist who brings the Ron penned characters to life.

The duo unveiled the new album by segueing into the very catchy single ‘Good Morning’ and built the show around their own sharply contrasting characters. Thus the static keyboard player and occasional narrator Ron - complete in Nehru suit - remained in stark contrast to the blue suited effervescent vocalist Russell, who made the most of the limited space the band and the elaborate set allowed him.

The hard working band who added pristine bv’s and harmonies throughout were cutely positioned the other side of some giant size portrait frames. And over the course of the next two and a half hours several other similar dualities were played out fr om the soft/bombastic musical dichotomy of ‘Strange Animal’ to the clever imaginative word play of ‘This Is The Renaissance’ set against the statuesque presence of 6 women who posed as if as the subject of a painting from that era.

In fact nearly every facet of the duo’s conceptual art found its expression in a variety of ways, most notably through the monkey playing pianist on ‘Let the Monkey Drive’ and Ron’s interactive mime with a constantly changing on screen piano on the metaphorical ‘Photoshop’.

Ron added a little physical mimed cameo when guffawing with disbelief at the self explanatory ‘I Can’t Believe That You Would Fall For All The Crap in This Song’, while on ‘(She Got Me) Pregnant’, Russell’ stellar vocals were backed by 6 pregnant pin-striped, goose stepping figures with designer specs.

The band duly provided the song’s sense of urgency with some feverish call and response lines. Interestingly some of the songs that worked best on the album such as ‘Renaissance’ didn’t work as well live, with the clever lyrics being swallowed by the big hall.

On the other hand, the more bombastic ‘Strange Animal’ and the booming repeated chorus of ‘I’ve Never Been High’ were far powerful live than on record. Indeed the wonderfully mirthful ‘Lighten Up, Morrissey’ gave the band a chance to stretch out and actually rock the place, a rare rock moment on a night containing everything from mock operetta and repeated choruses, to hook laden synth lines, and pounding percussion.

Perhaps the closing ‘Likeable’ best exemplified a wonderful evening as Russell looked up to the gods extended his arms and led a superb voice collage through several tempo changes and some clever piano lines into a booming chorus.

The final extended coda of ‘Like Me’ was repeated continuously while Ron feigned setting fire to band’s previous 20 album covers on the backing screen. He tossed away the lighter and left ‘Exotic Creatures ‘in tact, as if to signify the reason for us all being here tonight.

And significantly perhaps, while each album was rapturously received the last three received the greatest applause, something that surely will have pleased the band. The contrast between the conceptual art of ‘Creatures’ and the second set of fans requests couldn’t have been more stark as the stripped down band sans props dipped in and out of Sparks back catalogue.

Sparks’ widely differing styles were evidenced in Ron’s clever narration of 1986’s ‘Shopping Mall of Love’ which contrasted strongly with the layered choruses and judicious sound samples of the more recent ‘Dick Around’.

They also threw in a couple nods to the 1975 Tony Viconti era, including ‘Get In The Swing’ and ‘Looks Looks Looks’ on which the horn section reading of Viconti’s arrangement actually brought a smile to Ron’s lips. The incredible reception was fully deserved, and if Russell accepted the plaudits as if in Hollywood, who could begrudge either of the brothers or band for enjoying their moment after 4 months rehearsals to pull off the implausible task of playing 21 albums on the bounce!

A belated second encore of ‘This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both of Us’ brought the house down as Russell dragged one last ounce of energy to lead the pogoing in front ranks.

And as Russell had already twice observed earlier in the evening, ‘this has far exceeded our wildest expectation’. The ten minute standing ovation might have been the stuff of a night at the opera, but grasping the moment he finished with a final humorous exhortation of ‘We must do this again sometime’, which drew as many gasps from the band as it did from the ecstatic crowd!

Review by Pete Feenstra

Best of 2008

Print this page in printer friendly format

Print this page in printer-friendly format

Tell a friend about this page

Tell a friend about this page

***** Out of this world | **** Pretty damn fine |
*** OK, approach with caution unless you are a fan |
** Instant bargain bin fodder | * Ugly. Just ugly

get ready to rock is a division of hotdigitsnewmedia group

Featured Artists
Artist Archive
Featured Labels
Label Archive
Do you want to appear here?