More about: Sparks
Union Chapel is a stunning venue. The converted church tends to lend a sense of gravitas to the shows played there. Tonight, however, Sparks vocalist Russell Mael puts pay to any thoughts of religious imagery or higher beings within about five seconds of arriving on the stage.
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A man in his sixties dressed as a teenage emo fan, with knee length black shorts over black leggings and jet black hair straight out of an early Nine Inch Nails video, he is quite a sight to behold. Only when joined by his brother, keyboard player and musical cult hero Ron Mael, do things start to make a little sense. Not much more, but a little.
Sparks are playing tonight as their stripped back incarnation Two Hands One Mouth, with only the two brothers on stage and no backing band. This has the effect of turning them into a very surreal cabaret act. Russell croons in his still incredibly impressive voice and wheels around the stage, applauding himself as he goes. Ron sits at the keyboard with his fixed icy stare, seemingly unchanged from the early 1970s, dressed as a very sinister looking geography teacher.
None of this should work. When on the second song of the night 'Carnegie Hall' Ron repeats the age old musical joke "How do I get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, man, practice", by all rights it should be laughable, but it's not. It's absolutely wonderful and a joy to behold. That has always been the skill of Sparks. Everything they do is ludicrous, but it's backed up by some seriously impressive musicianship that makes it musically rewarding as well as outrageously good fun.
Half way through the set, Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore is introduced, almost apologetically, to play guitar on a riotous 'This Town Ain't Big Enough For The Both Of Us'. It's a measure of the huge personality of Ron and Russell that his arrival and departure are treated almost as a matter of course by the audience, not as the mind-blowing guest appearance that in truth it is.
The biggest cheer of the night comes as Ron performs his party piece. Russell takes over on the keyboards and at first Ron glares at him grumpily before seemingly being taken by the music. Starting by walking to the front of the stage and clicking his fingers ever more intently, he suddenly lets himself go and flings himself around the stage, beaming from ear to ear as he goes. Juvenile, nonsensical and utterly wonderful, it sums up Sparks better than any writer ever could.
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More about: Sparks