Sparks performed at The Hollywood Bowl for the first time ever in their almost 50-year career on Sunday, July 16th. by Harriet Kaplan
Singer Russell Mael said for him and his brother keyboardist Ron Mael it was a special homecoming and thrill to play at the Bowl. The Maels are Los Angeles natives and started Sparks out here in 1974. He went on to say he saw The Beatles along with Ron in 1964 at the Bowl and it provided them with a good education. Perhaps it taught them in part to carve out their own musical template creating a desire within to stand out and be different. Thereby defying expectations being unconventional. Yet thoroughly memorable and remarkable for their searing originality. The material is boldly crafted literally on their own terms. Speaking of songs, Sparks performed a total of 18 in 90 minutes. The enormity and weight of their very long career was showcased through every period and style featuring among the many: “So May We Start,” “Angst In My Pants,” “Balls,” “The Shopping Mall of Love,” “Number One Song In Heaven” and “Music You Can Dance To.” At least half came from their vast catalog of 26 studio albums. Plus five new tracks from Sparks’ new studio album, “The Girl is Crying in Her Latte.” Highlights included “It Doesn’t Have To Be That Way,” “Nothing is Good As They Say,” “We Go Dancing,” and “Gee That Was Fun.” The music is witty, experimental and danceable pop with synth bent. The lyrics are contradictory. They can be many things all at once like: funny, sad, moody, amorous within the context of literally one song.
The multi-generational audience really enjoyed the show and could seen standing often in the aisles dancing and singing to the lyrics.
Russell is kinetic and animated presence onstage singing in a high-pitched operatic manner. He was also stylishly dressed in a two-tone red and black suit with matching shoes. Ron was poker faced, stoic and unemotional resembling more banker than a musician/rockstar. He was primarily seated playing keyboards. Ron did cut loose on “The Shopping Mall of Love” taking center stage to the surprise and amusement of the crowd. He sang in a monotone voice and also this broke out an impromptu running man type of dance.
Sparks were supported by a sharp and dynamic backing band. The creative lighting effects were imaginative as they were dramatic.
This unforgettable show was overwhelming success on every level and testament to the talents and longevity of Sparks: Russell and Ron Mael. They continue to remain relevant writing new material and still working well into their 70s with clearly no intention of slowing down anytime soon. This truly admirable as it is inspiring.
Sparks influence can be heard in many later genres of music that has followed them including synth-pop, new wave, new wave, post-punk, and alternative. The influence has reverberated among bands and artists that include Joy Division, New Order, Depeche Mode, The Smiths, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Sonic Youth and Björk.
So May We Start
The Girl Is Crying in Her Latte
Angst in My Pants
When I’m With You
Nothing Is as Good as They Say It Is
It Doesn’t Have to Be That Way
Shopping Mall of Love
We Go Dancing
Music That You Can Dance To
When Do I Get to Sing “My Way”
The Number One Song in Heaven
This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both of Us
Gee, That Was Fun
My Baby’s Taking Me Home
Opening for Sparks was They Might Be Giants. It was a fun, entertaining and enjoyable set of music featuring 12 songs notable among them was “Istanbul (Not Constantinople),” “Doctor Worm,” “Don’t Let’s Start,” “Birdhouse In Your Soul” and more. The American alternative rock band from was formed in 1982 by John Flansburgh and John Lindell in New York. Flansburgh seemed in awe of performing at the Bowl. He made some humorous asides about the scope of that honor and graciously thanked Sparks for opening slot.
Damn Good Times
Synopsis for Latecomers
Birdhouse in Your Soul
Istanbul (Not Constantinople) (The Four Lads cover)
When Will You Die
Don’t Let’s Start
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