Sparks Win Over the Chapel With Minimalism, 4/9/13
Sparks at the Chapel last night.
Tuesday, April 9, 2013
Better than: Going all the way to Coachella to see them!
If you don't know about Sparks, here are the essentials:
- The band is led by the two Mael brothers. Ronald on keyboards and Russell on vocals.
- They have been around for 40 years and have released 22 albums, constantly growing and changing as a band.
- They are huge weirdos.
You've probably been following the Sparks coverage for the past couple weeks on this very blog, and you've probably had one of two reactions: "Who the hell are these guys?" or "YES! SPARKS! BEST BAND EVER!" You see, Sparks fans are kind of rare stateside, but the fans they do have are intensely passionate about their love for the music of The Brothers Mael.
Sparks are known for their powerfully loud art-rock performances. Always the maximalists, their best work, like 1974's Propaganda and 1983's In Outer Space, usually features booming drums, buzzing guitars, pulsating synths, and vocals belted out at highest volume by Russell. That's what makes their current project, The Two Hands One Mouth Tour, so unique and peculiar. The brothers are stripping down their songs to the barest essentials -- keyboards and voice. We were skeptical to see them sans backing rock band, but were pleasantly surprised once the two came out on stage opening with "The Rhythm Thief" from 1999's Lil' Beethoven. They were as powerful as ever. Ronald's signature keyboard sounded full and bright, and Russ' voice filled up The Chapel hall like some sort of beautiful, singing angel-baby-man. To our ears they sounded heavenly.
The set spanned their entire career. High points included "Sherlock Holmes" and the title track from 1982's Angst In My Pants, "This Town Ain't Big Enough For The Both Of Us" from 1974's Kimono My House, and "Beat The Clock," which featured Ronald Mael's famed "shuffle dance" (it has to be seen to believed). Things got decidedly more synth-heavy during the performance of "No. 1 Song in Heaven." The minimalist arrangement breathed new life into the classic Giorgio Moroder-produced track.
Ricardo Esway The Russell Shuffle
But why were Sparks FINALLY playing San Francisco after a decade-long hiatus? It's not like they have been inactive. They've been actively touring Europe, working on films, and releasing concept albums all the while. So why now? The answer, of course, is Coachella.
When bands get booked for Coachella, as Sparks did, it's the Bay Area that usually benefits, as many of the scheduled acts play smaller, more intimate shows up here before heading out to perform that desert shithole known as Indio. It will be interesting to see how well the avant-pop act is received in a huge outdoor festival setting. Sure, the stripped-down set was completely magical in a small venue full of diehard fans, but how will the kids react to Ronald doing a monologue about Ingmar Bergman to classical piano while they are waiting to see the Red Hot Chili Peppers? Either way, we are glad Sparks finally came back to the Bay, and the enthusiastic crowd welcomed them with loving applause.
Paul McCartney dressed as Ronald Mael in the video for 1980's 'Coming Up.'
Now Stateside: The Los Angeles natives are known for rarely playing in the States due to their lack of fans, as they are supposedly more famous in Europe and Asia. This ridiculous notion was addressed in a very heartfelt speech Ronald made after the encore. "We used to not acknowledge the appreciation you had for our music here... but now we do," he said clutching his chest, as his brother wiped a tear from his eye and waved goodbye. The audience teared up with him as the brothers convinced us that, yes, they really are the number one band in heaven.
Venue notes: The Chapel is an absolutely lovely venue with rich sound and a beautiful stage. It's right in the heart of the Mission and so close to BART! We hope they keep booking cool shows like this one and we look forward to going there in the future.
Two Hands, One Mouth Overture
The Rhythm Thief
At Home, At Work, At Play
Angst in My Pants
Under the Table With Her
My Baby's Taking Me Home
Singing in the Shower
The Wedding of Jacqueline Kennedy to Russell Mael
Excerpts from The Seduction Of Ingmar Bergman
Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth
This Town Ain't Big Enough for Both of Us
Hospitality on Parade
When Do I Get to Sing "My Way"
The Number One Song in Heaven
Beat the Clock
Two Hands, One Mouth