Sparks, Forum, London
Tuesday 24 March 2009
When Ron Mael springs from a bed to open proceedings, he leaps up as if this duo had just recorded 1974's breakthrough album Kimono My House, not last year's 21st effort, Exotic Creatures of the Deep.
This sexagenarian's fitness reflects his and brother Russell's healthy Californian lifestyle. Sparks take breaks rather than engineer comebacks, so they don't generate the excitement of, say, Tina Turner's recent shows. Still, a devoted fanbase gather to hear them perform both albums in their entirety.
Kimono and "This Town Ain't Big Enough for the Both of Us" made Sparks glam-rock stars. Despite later evolution as synth-pop pioneers and their current orchestral leanings, their demeanour remains unchanged. Chief songwriter Ron maintains a thin moustache and and inscrutable expression at the keyboard; his brother (minus bubble perm) is still a twitchy, livewire presence. A backing band perform behind giant, ornate picture frames, as if to point to the artifice that's more intriguing to the Maels than genuine emotional candour.
Russell has little to say about the album that made their name. His one long spiel alludes to next night's performance of Exotic, alongside 1979's No 1 In Heaven, which saw Sparks reinvented as the original two-man electronic act. Numbers from the current album receive their own visual quirks; a troupe of dancers make occasional appearances, either pushing shopping trollies or aping Ron's conservative dress sense. They fail to disguise the fact that Russell's operatic voice loses its force when he aims for the high notes. "Good Morning" thrives as a smirking look at one-night stands – "I hope it's just your laugh that's infectious" – alongside the Goldfrapp-style stomp of "I Can't Believe that You Would Fall for All the Crap in this Song". These are decent ideas performed with relish, but they're rather stretched over a 13-strong set.
This is less of a problem within the succinct grandeur of Kimono, where Queen-style theatrics met Weimar cabaret. With the stage stripped bare, the band turn up their amps to recreate those early Roxy Music-style licks, the bar-room racket a perfect foil to Russell's panic-ridden tones. The songs fizz with novelty and an eye for detail missing in the earlier set, especially in the sideways look at casual sex in "Amateur Hour".
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