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Pomp And Gravitas: Sparks, Live in Edinburgh

28 September 2017, 13:19 | Written by Robin Read-Challen

From the moment Sparks arrive on stage until the last note of the hour-and-a-half long set, Russell Mael bounces around the stage with all the infectious energy of a hyperactive puppy. His voice sounds as impressive as ever, especially on Exotic Creatures of the Deep’s “Good Morning” and the impossibly high notes in “This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us”. Watching him perform with such energy at such a high level is stunning.

In contrast, his brother Ron Mael’s infamous death stare is mostly fixed in place. It feels as though he manages to make eye contact with each of the 900 audience members throughout the gig. Sometimes though, he can’t help but sing along under his breath or smile slyly at certain lyrics; in “Missionary Position”, during the line, “it’s a private matter as to frequency”, he raises his eyebrows and smiles archly at the crowd.

With help from two thirds of Mini Mansions, the live band is as sharp in their striped uniforms as they are tight musically, with songs from new album Hippopotamus sounding just as polished as tracks from the 1970s. It’s been almost 10 years since the last Sparks album so it’s heartening that the new material gets such a good reaction. From the new album, “Edith Piaf (Said It Better Than Me)” and “I Wish You Were Fun” are highlights. It’s perhaps a shame that they didn’t play some more of the album tracks such as “Giddy, Giddy” and “The Amazing Mr. Repeat.” Still, it seems a little churlish to bemoan a set which includes “Dick Around”, one of their most musically diverse and eccentric songs, which sounds utterly incredible live.

Other highlights include their "cover" of “Johnny Delusional”, a product of their collaboration with Franz Ferdinand as FFS, and of course their 1979 synthpop masterpiece “No.1 Song In Heaven”, with Ron’s mid-song “Gabriel plays it” shuffle dance which has become staple of their live show. Tunes such as “Sherlock Holmes” and “My Baby’s Taking Me Home” may seem understated choices but provide emotional gravitas amongst the pomp and silliness.

At the end of the show, when Russell introduces Ron as the band member who does "everything else", and pushes him towards the front of the stage, the rest of the band all bow down to him. Both he and Russell seem overwhelmed with the reaction and are so genuine in their thanks that it’s hard not to fall in love with them all over again.

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