Sparks, The Barbican, review: Grandiose in the way they've always itched to be

Here's to forty more years of this seminal band

Tom Mendelsohn
Monday 22 December 2014 13:42 GMT

Sparks are one of those seminal bands whose unfairly cult status is sad proof we live in an uncaring universe.

Tonight, they're playing their most famous work, 1974 glam rock masterpiece Kimono My House in its entirety. For its 40th anniversary show tonight, ambitions are grand; they've brought the 35-piece Heritage Orchestra.

Familiar songs are instantly transformed - with a dozen-strong string section reimagining guitar solos, and as many as three timpanists, the band feels grandiose in the way they've always itched to be.

They mount the stage dressed, obviously, in kimonos, and immediately set into perennial roles - older brother Ron Mael hunched statuesque and unsmiling behind his grand piano, Russell capering about like he's barely noticed the past 40 years.

Kimono is an album without a weak moment, and so it goes tonight. Highlights include a season-appropriate version of "Thank God It's Not Christmas" drenched in cheeky sleighbell, an imperious "Hasta Manana Monsieur", and their biggest hit "This Town Ain't Big Enough For The Both Of Us", which trades its customary jaunt for considerable sturm and drang.

For men in their sixties, they're remarkably sprightly. Russell's not lost any of his falsetto, though he does run out of puff on "Equator", a song which requires so much from his vocal chords it's amazing he ever managed it in the first place.

If the audience minds as his voice dips to a whisper, their subsequent standing ovation masks it. Eventually he delegates, jokingly admonishing us for not being able to sing that high. He's not wrong.

The second half of the show is a scatter plot of the rest of their best work from a 43-year career, each rendition at glorious right angles from its recorded incarnation. A harpist does wonders for any orchestral version of "All I Do Now Is Dick Around", for instance. So here's to 40 more years.

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