Live review: Sparks at The Arches, 25/11/13

DSC_3443Returning to Glasgow as part of a brief European tour, Sparks take to the stage with little fanfare.

On this Revenge of Two Hands, One Mouth tour the group has been stripped back to just singer Russ Mael and his brother Ron Mael on keyboards but they still dominate the claustrophobic Arches stage, aided by an impressive light show.

With twenty-two albums released in a career stretching back to 1971, the Mael brothers have spent four decades walking the line between pop stardom, cult fervour and energetic vaudeville.

Ron’s iconic seventies office worker outfit remains, but the real surprise is how sprightly Russ looks; and more importantly how strong that startling falsetto remains after all these years.

As always visibility at The Arches is far from perfect for those outside the front few rows but it’s made up for by a set that draws from both early seventies classic like Kimono My House and their more recent material such as 2012’s The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman.

Composition remains at the forefront of what they do, and though the songs are often simple, they’re elevated by the duo’s attention to economy and form.

‘How Do I Get to Carnegie Hall?’ from 2002’s Lil Beethoven is as stark and dramatic as anything else in their back catalogue, while a sing-along version of ‘This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Both of Us’ provokes outbreaks of dancing.

Flitting between glam, new wave and curiously old-fashioned music hall moments, Russ soaks up the audiences applause and struts around the stage, culminating in a couple of obviously planned dance moves.

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The contrast between his cartoonish strut and his brother hunched over his keyboard is a big part of Sparks’ dynamism but it would all fall flat if the songs weren’t up to scratch.

Their biggest hit may have a whiff of novelty to its comedic falsetto but they surround it with songs of surprising emotional depth.

2000’s ‘Katharine Hepburn’ is another highlight, whilst Ron takes a rare lead vocal on a brief detour into their multi-part odyssey The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman, soon to be made into a film.

Startling the gawky and awkward brother is even tempted out from behind his Roland keyboard to deliver an appropriately awkward series of dance moves, reminiscent of the climax of Napoleon Dynamite.

Thanking the audience profusely the duo finally departs triumphant; for Sparks the fire still burns.

more photos

Words: Max Sefton
Photos: Stewart Fullerton

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