Earlier this month, Californian brothers Ron and Russell Mael released the first Sparks album in eight years and their twenty-fourth overall. Though completely different to every release that’s preceded it, ‘Hippopotamus’ doesn’t steer far from the mixed up Sparks style that we’re used to and they’re currently confounding fan expectations on their UK tour.
Last Friday saw Sparks return to Manchester’s oldest nightclub, The Ritz, where they showcased their wealth of experience on the live music scene, with a strong set list of tracks from all areas of their career. The band opened with the attention-grabbing ‘What The Hell Is It This Time’ from ‘Hippopotamus’, before diving into ‘Propaganda’ from their album of the same name – both received such a huge reaction from the crowd that it was almost impossible to believe that one was released in 1974 and one just a few weeks ago.
The band played seven tracks from ‘Hippopotamus’ and infectiously catchy tracks such as the humorous ‘Missionary Position’ and the genius (and very wordy) ‘Hippopotamus’ sat perfectly alongside singles such as ‘Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth’ and ‘Dick Around’. In true Sparks style, the set list covered various genres, including the haunting single ‘Edith Piaf (Said It Better Than Me)’ and the short and sweet ‘Probably Nothing’; a classic Sparks track that’s inclusive of both witty lyrics and beautifully delicate piano.
‘Scandinavian Design’ thrived on the funky bass that ran through it and its quirky percussive effects, though it was ‘Number One Song In Heaven’ that got everybody dancing, including Ron, as he left his keyboard and broke his trademark stern look to break-dance centre stage whilst Russell looked on, clapping and smiling. Though Sparks brought a huge amount of entertainment and enjoyment to the Ritz through the night, it was ‘This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us’ that some fans were waiting for and it never disappoints live – with Russell’s falsetto vocals still blowing the crowd away 42 years after its original release, as he danced around the stage in the same lively manner that he did back in 1974.
Ending on ‘Hospitality On Parade’ from the 1975 released album ‘Indiscreet’, the band left the stage graciously to the sounds of cheers and chants from a crowd that had become livelier with each and every track. Luckily it wasn’t long before they returned and gave a nod to their time as FFS, with Scottish indie-rockers Franz Ferdinand, playing the upbeat ‘Johnny Delusional’ from the super groups debut album ‘FFS’.
The final track of the night was the frenetic ‘Amateur Hour‘, showcasing that Sparks are and always will be a band in prime form. As the brothers took their final bows and stood in awe at the size and volume of the crowd, Russell thanked everybody for supporting the band and encouraging Ron to write more songs, before pushing his brother forward and handing him the microphone – whilst Ron expressed his gratitude, the crowd fell silent as they listened intently – a silence that spoke volumes.