Vicar Street Dublin, Sunday, April 10th
Brothers Ron and Russell Mael, better known as Sparks, have had an enduring 50-year career filled with highs and lows. So, I find it astonishing that many people claimed not to have heard of them until the release last year of Edgar Wrights’s excellent documentary The Sparks Brothers. Indeed, the phrase I most frequently overheard at this show was “I‘d never heard of them before the movie”.
Personally, I’ve been a fan since 1994 and have seen them live in the past so I wasn’t going to miss this opportunity to catch them again. After all, it has been 10 years since they last graced our shores and they have only played here twice. With both brothers now in their 70s, one has to wonder if they will want to do lengthy world tours for much longer.
However, bouncing onto the stage just after 8.15pm both brothers looked far younger than their years (mind you Ron Mael has been dressing like he was 70 since the 70s so this helps to add to his timeless appeal). Kicking off with the appropriately titled So May We Start (the opening track from their musical Annette, which hit cinemas late last year) they took fans old and new down a rabbit hole of their hits with a setlist that was truly a career retrospective.
They played Wonder Girl from their debut album when they were known as Halfnelson, from the same era we got Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth, they took us through their electronic era with Number One Song In Heaven, also from the 80s I Predict, their tongue in cheek dance offering Music That You Can Dance To and of course their 90’s classic (which is still a banger) When Do I Get To Sing My Way.
They brought us into this century with songs like Suburban Homeboy and Johnny Delusional (which was originally a collaboration with Franz Ferdinand) and right up to date with All That Taken from their latest album A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip which was released last year. They of course also played their iconic 70’s hit This Town Ain’t Big Enough For the Both of Us and numerous other tracks that had the audience in awe of Russell’s vocal stylings. He is still performing songs in the same keys that he did in his 20s and hitting every falsetto note and it is honestly mesmerising to watch.
However, the biggest cheers were reserved for his brother Ron who stepped out from behind the keyboards to give a deadpan performance of Shopping Mall of Love and later Suburban Homeboy. He also treated the crowd to his trademark Ron shuffle and the crowd almost blew the roof of the venue with the applause.
Many artists are tempted to become parodies of themselves after they have been in the business for a few decades but Sparks are constantly evolving and the performers that took to the stage on Sunday were as confident in their new material as they were in the classics. Watching Russell bounce around the stage with the energy of a 20-year-old it was hard not to get swept up in it and indeed many of the crowd were throwing serious shapes and dancing harder than I imagine some of them had in years.
To endure for 50 years is remarkable. To endure for 50 years and to still be garnering new fans and producing wonderfully relevant material makes them a unicorn amongst rock stars. They have more than earned their place as the elder statesmen of music and are completely deserving of their reputation as consummate professionals. As they took a photo with the audience before leaving the stage for the last time you could feel the sadness in the air as fans old and new realised that this was the end of what had been a wonderful night.
This was a fantastic show with a setlist that should have kept most of the fans happy (although with a 25 album back catalogue there is always going to be some favourite they are forced to drop). With another album in the works let’s hope that they do indeed feel like undertaking another mammoth world tour in the next couple of years. In the meantime, this show was so good that I travelled to Belfast to see them again the next night. Because the only thing better than a Sparks show is two Sparks shows!
So May We Start
Angst In My Pants
Tips for Teens
Under the Table With Her
Get in the Swing
I Married Myself
Stravinsky’s Only Hit
Shopping Mall of Love
Johnny Delusional – (FFS cover)
We Love Each Other So Much
Edith Piaf (Said It Better Than Me)
Music That You Can Dance To
The Rhythm Thief
Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth
When Do I Get to Sing “My Way”
My Baby’s Taking Me Home
The Number One Song in Heaven
This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both of Us