Monday, May 19, 2008

Sparks -- Kimono My House, Carling Academy At Islington, May 18, 2008

While talking to people in the queue, I note that in America (well, Chicago), pretty much no one knows Sparks. Over here, everyone notes that everyone knows Sparks -- for "This Town Ain't Big Enough For The Both Of Us". This is the lead track on the album that broke Sparks in England and the rest of Europe. Not only was it a smash in 1974, but a remake, with Faith No More teaming with the Maels, charted here in the late '90s. And, lest I forget, Justin Hawkins of The Darkness had a hit cover of the tune under his nom de plume British Whale.

With that legacy, it should be no surprise that Kimono My House would be the most highly anticipated show of this 21 night residency, selling out speedily. What a special night it was.

How special? One of the album cover models was in attendance, and I was standing behind her (and her gorgeous daughter). Even more significant, Ron Mael came out with The Moustache. No, he didn't grow the toothbrush 'stache that had Lennon musing about seeing Hitler on the telly (after seeing the band on Top Of The Pops). Ron colored over his pencil thin moustache and drew in his iconic trademark.

Furthermore, during the first couple of songs, he was particularly animated...facially, that is. His glares and odd stares were in full form, bringing back those glory days.

Unlike the first two albums, which had songs that are tricky to perform live, Kimono is made for the stage. It doesn't hurt when you can open with a one-two punch of "This Town" and "Amateur Hour", sending the crowd into an immediate frenzy.

However, the rest of the album holds up so well and sounded brilliant live. Songs like "Talent Is An Asset" (where Russell and the axe wielding members of the band did all of the requisite handclapping) and "Complaints" were short, punchy, and automatically winning pop songs. In a different era, this album would have spawned more than two hit singles (they didn't flog LPs for singles the way they do now).

Even better were the extended songs from the album. "Thank God It's Not Christmas" is a mid-tempo work of genius. It's full of great guitar lines, ably played by Jim Wilson (who was joined for the whole show by Miles...I forgot his last name, on second guitar). Russell tore into the brilliant lyrics, and I could tell that even he recognized this bit as especially brilliant: "If this were the Seine/we'd be very suave/but it's just the rain/washing down the boulevard."

This was followed by the unique "Hasta Manana Monseur", one of many Sparks songs with an international flair. Here, Russell, who was also the most animated yet, showing not only what a great front man he is, but that he could still sound quite boyish.

Meanwhile, Russell's falsetto abilities were put to the test. He passed with flying colors on "Here In Heaven". He was even more amazing on the neo-Brechtian showtune weirdness that is the album finale "Equator". Here, the band really stretched out, at times probably to give Russell a well-deserved breather. It was yet another rousing set closer.

One other observation -- it's interesting to hear a different drum style applied to these songs. While generally faithful to Dinky Diamond's drum parts, Steven Nistor doesn't favor coming down on the kick pedal and hi-hat in combination with a bass note, a real hallmark of the Sparks sound (even moreso on Propaganda). It's not a good thing or a bad thing -- just an interesting thing.

The encore last night was the Kimono era b-side "Barbecutie". There was a delay due to a problem with Steve McDonald's bass. Russell first joked about how vital the bass was to the song (and a solo bass opens the track) and then did a nice job of passing the time, showing customary wit. It's nice to know he can do it without a script.


Anonymous said...

The second guitarist/vocalist is Marcus Blake. He will be playing bass at future shows.

Elizabeth said...

Wow. It sounds like you are having a great time.

Eve said...

we must have been standing next to each other, I was behind the Kimono lady and daughter.

I've enjoyed reading your blog.

Vacantmoon said...

man i was watching the live video feed from atlanta and had to leave before 'barbecutie' - wish i'd seen that!!! thanks for the cool reviews.