By DAN MACINTOSH
Sparks ended its Hippopotamus Tour with a rousing performance at the Palace Theatre in downtown Los Angeles. Backed by a strong and enthusiastic five-piece band, brothers Russell (vocals) and Ron Mael (keyboards) appeared to be energized, not drained, at the conclusion of its domestic tour.
The dynamic duo opened with “What the Hell Is It This Time?” a song sung from the perspective of a disgusted god, and then performed a welcome mix of both the old and the new. In addition to about a third of the songs from the latest Hippopotamus album (including the full-length’s childlike title cut), the audience was treated to moody ballads, including “The Rhythm Thief,” and “Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth,” as well as thumping disco workouts, such as “The Number One Song in Heaven,” originally written with (and produced by) disco pioneer, Giorgio Moroder.
The pair spoke little during the show, with Ron Mael only talking to introduce his brother Russell during concert-ending band introductions. Ron Mael stayed behind the keyboards the whole night, except to do his wacky dance moves during “The Number One Song in Heaven.”
For those of us first introduced to Sparks with hormone-fueled KROQ hits, like “Angst in My Pants” (also performed tonight), this evening was a good presentation of the wide breadth of Sparks’ catalogue. Sparks has had quite the varied career, to say the least. It’s been glam-era UK stars, electronic music pioneers and new wave radio hitmakers. The one consistent throughout the act’s stylistic evolution, however, has been its smart and witty songwriting. So, no matter the sonic flavor, fans loved everything it played tonight.
It’s nearly impossible to believe Russell Mael is 70 years old, especially the way he energetically bounced around the stage from start to finish. His voice – which, admittedly, is an acquired taste for some – is also remarkably strong. Many Sparks songs require hitting higher than normal male notes, yet Russell hit his vocal mark every time.
Les Sewing Sisters opened the show with its unique blend of fashion-centric lyrics and sewing machine-accompanied dance music. Had these sexy Japanese women opened for almost any other pop act, they may have been ignored, or worse, booed. Not with Sparks fans, though, who listened appreciatively to this unusual configuration.
Sparks’ latest album, Hippopotamus, includes some stellar tracks. “Missionary Position” and “Edith Piaf (Said It Better Than Me)” stand up well next to Sparks’ many standout recordings through the years. These new works reveal how Sparks is still a vibrantly creative group, and this hometown gig showcased Sparks’ undiminishing skills.
Dan MacIntosh is a reviewer for CaliforniaRocker.com. See his previous reviews here.
All images courtesy of @ARoodPhoto on IG and Twitter; on Facebook as StevoRood.