I have to open this by saying that I’m not cool enough to have known about Sparks until a few weeks ago. A friend of mine, waiting for a bus downtown with me, noticed the marquee for the Palace Theater announcing they’d be playing in November. I bought us tickets on the spot and the date of the show arrived.
The past few weeks leading up to the show has been a crash course in a band with a nearly 50 year run that’s still releasing new albums (their current tour is for the latest, Hippopotamus, released least year, but they’ve released an album every five years or less since 1971). I focused on their earlier stuff, although this felt like a backwards move on my part.
With such a long run, a band like this- especially with a new album- was sure to ignore their earlier stuff and play more of their recent stuff? Nope. Sparks occupies an intriguing celebrity: they’re by no means a household name. It took my “cool” friend to clue me into who and what they were (and that they even existed). However, Morrisey, Cobain and even Paul McCartney openly espouse(d) their fandom of the group.
It doesn’t take long listening through their discography to recognize familiar sounds and flourishes I attribute to other bands, only to do the digging and realize that Sparks did it long before the bands in question and it was just a throwaway bit of fun and experimentalism for them. Echoes of Sparks can be heard in The Clash, Ramones, Nirvana, hell even Franz Ferdinand (with whom they did a collaborative album not too long ago).
The danger with an act like this live is that you’re seeing something of a tribute to the band’s former glory rather than the band itself. I’m pleased as hell to report that Sparks in no way plays their age. I might have guessed brothers Ron and Russell Mael were in their early 60s, and said that they look and perform stunningly well for even that number of years. They’re 70 and 73 respectively, and they put on a high energy, impeccable show. They are two men with a lifetime of practice honing their craft, stage presence, and love of the music and it showed in every single moment they were on stage.
If you don’t know Sparks, give them a try. I recommend starting with their Propaganda album (from 1974, which they played 3 songs from last night). An additional recommendation I make: if you have a cool friend who notices something she thinks would be cool to do, do it. You might just find a new favorite band/artist/place to eat. You’ll never regret getting out to experience it, only that you missed it if you choose not to.