After over twenty albums and fifty years in the business, the Mael brothers have weathered everything from adulation to ridicule and indifference, yet resolutely ploughed their own idiosyncratic furrow. Long ago realising that trying to play to the fickle tastes of the public was a risky and ultimately futile endeavour, they simply did their uniquely own thing, occasionally brushing the firmaments and often consigned to obscurity, and in the process became innovators, provocateurs and unlikely popstars.
Now at this stage in their career, the long-deserved recognition is coming home to roost, notably via the documentary, ‘The Sparks Brothers’ (with the cream of the music industry queuing up to pay tribute), and the multi award-winning film ‘Annette’ for which they provided the soundtrack. Forget national, they’ve become global treasures.
Now both in their seventies, this is no retro or “heritage” band, but a finely-honed world-class act, with a huge wealth of material to draw upon, a backing band of the highest level and all the top-class light and sound values you would expect from living legends.
The show opened appropriately with ‘So May We Start’ (from ‘Annette’), establishing a mood of musical theatre (Sparks have always been about the theatrical). From then on in we were treated to a selection of tunes from different eras – ‘Tips For Teens’ and ‘Angst in My Pants’ from their early eighties period, interspersed with the seventies genre experimentalism of ‘Under the Table With Her’ and ‘Get In the Swing’, and along the way killer tunes from their last two albums Hippopotamus and A Steady Drip Drip Drip (‘Lawnmower’, ‘Edith Piaf (said it Better Than Me) ).
The helium falsetto of Russell Mael has not diminished one iota, it’s quite incredible, and Ron’s mere presence is up there with Marilyn Monroe as an icon of our times.
‘Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth’ was delivered in fine sinister style, followed by ‘When Do I Get to Sing My Way’, the ambience constantly changing. When the mood was orchestral it was symphonically majestic, when it rocked it fucking blew the windows out.
A superbly crafted set inched its way towards what we were all secretly waiting for, but full of such pearls and surprises that no-one wanted it to get there and end the fun. A turbo-charged ‘Number One Song in Heaven’ blasted the roof off, the stony-faced Ron suddenly breaking character and throwing dance moves at 76 years of age.
When ‘This Town Ain’t Big Enough For the Both of Us’ finally erupted it was with all the power and intensity of its first shocking appearance, in fact it’s the best I’ve ever heard it!
An encore followed, a standing ovation and some heartfelt communication with the crowd. It’s feels rare these days (to me anyway) that you see a gig that you feel you’ll still be talking about many years later, feeling blessed to have had the chance to have been there. This certainly felt like one.