Sparks @ Brighton Music Hall 10.30.13
by Tim DiFazio (English), published November 19th 2013
photos by Tim DiFazio
Sparks are a band that knows their fans. Their live show is truly a reflection of this, as the better you know them, the more of an impact it will have. All of the strongest moments of their set at Brighton Music Hall relied on the response of the audience, from the way the room absolutely erupted in applause at the beginning of “This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Both of Us” to the band’s announcement that Canadian director Guy Maddin was in talks with them about a film version of The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman, their most recent musical project.
The current tour, aptly titled “The Revenge of Two Hands One Mouth,” consists of grouchy instrumentalist Ron Mael scowling at the audience from behind an array of keyboards and synths while his brother Russel lets loose with a theatrical falsetto and some joyful dancing. Despite being the only instrumentalist, Ron Mael is very good at creating diverse layers of sound that successfully emulate an entire band. He recreated some of the tracks from Sparks’ earlier years, when they actually had a full band, and provided us with some interesting electronic takes on them. The sound was very clean and precise, which is impressive considering that they are a band that has been mostly electronic since the 1980′s playing a low-budget bar gig.
Throughout the 23-song set the duo managed to keep things fresh with their stage presence alone, with Russel’s energetic pantomime and expressive vocals perfectly contrasted against Ron’s statuesque refusal to do anything but stand still and play his keyboard. They also made excellent use of the basic stage lighting available at Brighton, as exemplified by a dramatic spotlight during their preview of The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman. They also demonstrated an impressive sense of intimacy with the audience. This show occurred on the night of game six of the World Series, and Russel came out in a Red Sox t-shirt to announce the then 6-0 score to a delighted audience. They also had a particularly touching moment where the brothers switched places, with Russel taking over the piano with a very exaggerated frown and Ron doing a gloriously silly dance of his own.
While the set didn’t do a lot that would shock or amaze anyone who had shown up without much prior knowledge, it gave the band’s serious listeners exactly what they are asking for. Sparks’ musical talent and idiosyncratic sense of humor created a show that is sure to leave fans with lifelong memories of a solid performance and a beautiful, beautiful Ron Mael.