Saturday, May 17, 2008

Sparks -- A Woofer In Tweeter's Clothing -- Carling Academy at Islington, 5/17/08

I learned something on the second night of the residency -- contrary to my first review, Russell Mael is getting some help on the lyrics. My vantage point was just a bit more towards Russell and I could see that he was looking down at a monitor to grab some of the words. I have no problem with that -- there's just too much to remember.

This was the album I was most anticipating, simply because it is one of the oddest albums I've ever heard. The flair for the dramatic hinted at on the debut burst forth fully on this LP. Moreover, the expanding songwriting prowess of Ron Mael fully revealed itself.

Yet the track that some people find the most striking originated with bass player Jim Mankey (who went on to Concrete Blonde). That number was one of the highlights of tonight's performance. "Moon Over Kentucky" is high drama, beginning with Russell's gentle vocals over a stately keyboard part, with the tension building with some sharp building guitar. The chorus is all menace, with the coda -- Russell singing a "la la la, la la de de da" (approximately) and the second time this part comes around, the organ gets all church-like, the band rumbles in and you expect a monster to burst out. Hearing the expert treatment this edition of Sparks gave was thrilling.

Likewise, the brilliance of "The Louvre", which is sung mostly in French, contrasting delicate verses, with a sweet slide guitar accent, with German beer hall stomping, until the last verse soars, Russell singing in English. The song is from the perspective of a statute, who ends up daring the tourists watching him to lift him. Again, the song reaches a crescendo that made the live rendition positively -- may I say it again? -- thrilling.

There were lighter moments. Russell's falsetto was in fine form on the rollicking ending to "Nothing Is Sacred". Strings were rendered unnecessary for the Gilbert & Sullivan go L.A. tomfoolery of "Here Comes Bob" (about a guy who gets into car accidents to meet people). "Girl From Germany" was pop fun as usual (they actually play this live from time to time) and they made "Do Re Mi" rock as much as it possibly can.

The only bobble of the night was during "Underground", where guitarist Jim Wilson fluffed one part (he went into it prematurely) but he found his footing. Regardless, that song turned out to be the hardest one to bring to the stage.

That could not be said about "Whippings And Apologies". It's a lacerating rocker, which required a second guitarist. Everyone played with abandon, including Ron Mael. Quite the finish, even better than the album.

The encore was, as Russell noted, Morrissey's favorite Sparks song. This was part of the Halfnelson demos and released on a collection of Morrissey's favorite tracks by anyone. They did a nice job on "Arts and Crafts Spectacular".

Finally, I spent more time watching Ron Mael. His ability to hold glares and odd looks is quite something. He is committed to his oddball image and stays in character all the time. Of course, it might not be an act...


Anna B said...

This sounds like a once-in-a-lifetime dream event, I'm so glad you were able to go to some of the show. I'm enjoying the reviews, even though I don't know their albums at all!

Slack-a-gogo said...

"Here Comes Bob"?!?!?! Good lord - I forgot that you'd be seeing that one live you lucky bastard!!!