“Lighting The Fuse With Sparks”
Written by Jason Reed
October 16, 2017
Last night musical legends Sparks brought their trademark wit, irreverence and passion to a packed house, on the second of their three shows at the El Rey Theatre in their hometown of Los Angeles. Fueled by the momentum of their successful world tour and new album “Hippopotamus” (released in September of this year), the Mael brothers showed no sign of inertia as they successfully lit the powder keg of audience anticipation and expectation, igniting the crowd in a cathartic blast of musical elation.
Speaking of their new album, for those that haven’t heard it, “Hippopotamus” is a bold artistic statement, consistently hitting the high notes (literally and figuratively) while providing the self-deprecation and neurotic introspection that their lyrics are known for. Tackling issues such as aging and forgetfulness (“Probably Nothing“), sexual mediocrity (“Missionary Position“), vapidness (“Unaware“) and other existential topics, the album has garnered positive reviews in the music press. Fans that I talked to in the crowd touted its many virtues. As such, it was little surprise that the audience’s reaction to their “Hippopotamus” heavy set was a positive one.
Opener Mister Goodnite (keyboardist Tyler Parkford from Sparks and Mini Mansions) started the evening off with his blend of Tony Orlando meets Har Mar Superstar meets Reggie Watts on benzodiazepines Vegas-style boozy crooning. An admitted “unlucky at love” casanova, Mr. Goodnite provided his smooth operator confessional lounge act lyrics while concurrently acting as DJ in selecting instrumental tracks off of the turntable he was spinning records on.
The band barreled through a solid 21 song set, with Russel Mael energetically jumping around on stage while blasting the audience with his otherworldly falsetto voice, brother Ron stoically glanced out at the audience while pounding away and tickling the proverbial ivories of his keyboard. Hearing the band in top form reminded me just how influential Sparks were when they landed on the music scene back in 1972. Their unique blend of operatic sensibilities mixed with a glam aesthetic were a huge influence on other bands of that era (including Queen) as well as countless more in the years since.
Other song highlights included the Klaus Nomi-esque “Edith Piaf (Said It Better Than Me)” as well as Sparks’ classics “This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both of Us” and “Nicotina.”
The band’s performance of “Life with the Macbeth’s” was inspired, with singer Rebecca Sjöwall lending her own operatic, soaring voice that perfectly complimented Russell’s.
However, perhaps the most memorable moment of the entire night was when the otherwise stone-faced Ron Mael stood at the front of the stage, grinned, then proceeded to vigorously cut a rug during “Number One Song In Heaven,” whipping the crowd into a frenzy.
As a fan of their work (one of my favorite new wave albums of all time is “Sparks in Outer Space” and I confess that I have a secret fantasy of someday doing a karaoke version of “Lucky Me” with Jane Wiedlin) I was blown away by the musicianship, energy and sheer entertainment value of the evening.
As an additional testament to the influence and draw of Sparks, at one point during the show I looked over to my right and saw a familiar face smiling and bobbing up and down with the energetic crowd. Who should it be but none other than the legendary Mr. “Weird Al” Yankovic, who, no doubt, found inspiration from the Mael brothers during his own formative years.
To check out Sparks’ upcoming tour dates and to order a copy of their new album visit: www.allsparks.com.