Eric Debarnot - Sparks at L'Alhambra,
Paris, December 4, 2013
What a great present to be able to attend Ron and Russell Mael's concert at the Alhambra, a small intimate venue close to the Place de la République! Since the explosion of This Town Ain't Big Enough... in 1974, Sparks has remained one of my favorite bands: I say “band” but Sparks is not a real band, it is two hands and a mouth distributed between two brothers with dazzling talent. Two hands and a mouth which therefore take their revenge on this tour, with a new set list, but following the same principle as the previous one, which revolves around the interpretation of minimalistic versions of Sparks' songs, reworked for only Ron's keyboard and Russell’s voice - but what a voice!
8:55 p.m., the Mael Brothers are there, aged but fairly unchanged after more than forty years of music, as expected with minimal equipment: Ron's keyboard and a loop box for Russell, for the first track only, the awesome "Your Call Is
Very Important To Us"... So the set starts on a very strong note - Little Beethoven is my favorite Sparks album - and does not weaken since we continue with "How Do I Get To Carnegie Hall".
Russell's voice remains magnificent despite his 65 years, his undamaged stage energy, and Ron displays his undying, unflappable and irresistible stoicism, which is a kind of show on its own. Russell, all in black as usual, wears funny golf pants, but we quickly forget this nice incongruity. The sound is obviously perfect, the lights correct, even if the continual agitation of Russell makes taking photos difficult. In short, we left for a smooth journey to the enchanted land of the wonderful songs of Sparks, the only unknown thing at this stage being the setlist: but the setlist is going to be daring, offering a visit to lesser-known pieces from the brothers' long discography, even obscure ones ("Big Boy", "Those Mysteries", "Academy Award Performance").
Highlights of this first part of the set: "Good Morning" with Russell running in circles on this irresistible melody, and a magnificent "How are you getting Home" as a Parisian homage to Leos Carax and his magical "Holy Motors"... not to mention the ritual and fascinating excerpt from "The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman", a daring and certainly less “pop” piece of work.
Photos by Eric Darnot
The set logically accelerates at the end, with crowd pleasers such as "This Town Ain't Big Enough For Both Of Us" or "Suburban Homeboy", before a magnificent conclusion with "When Do I get to sing 'My Way'", a moment of pure grace that shows how close Sparks is to the exceptional.
Wow! Everyone is on their feet to applaud, for an ovation that does not seem to want to end. And that is when something happens: emotion like an electric current, tenuous but constant, between us and them, the feeling of a moment apart, protected from the barbarism of the world. The encore is going to be simply fantastic, with a unique version of "Tryouts For The Human Race" - fans are unfurling a large banner saying "Thank you again" - then a superb "Number One Song in Heaven", which sees Russell ejecting his brother from behind his keyboards for him to dance (huh?) on the front of the stage, until the famous grimacing smile that everyone expects, and which triggers thunderous applause.
We end elegantly with "the" piece composed especially for this tour, "Revenge of Two Hands One Mouth". The emotion is now peaking, and Ron and Russell can no longer leave the stage: a child has offered Ron a t-shirt expressing the love of the Parisian fans, and Ron, who does not speak French like his brother, explains how much he needs the public to find inspiration, while their music is a kind of bubble cut off from the real world. Russell finds it difficult to contain his emotion, and the Mael Brothers end up leaving the stage, visibly with regret. Tonight we have lived one of those incredible moments where our love of music has materialized, and where everything, for a few minutes at least, seemed to make sense.
Photos by Eric Darnot
A short one hour and fifteen minutes for a perfect show, technically impeccable - these songs! This voice! – but more importantly incredibly touching. Yes, thank you, thank you again and again, Ron (“the hardest working man” in show business according to his admiring brother) and Russell, for knowing how to keep the flame of inspiration so bright and warm. I don't know when - or even if - we will meet again like this, but you have made me happier and certainly better for the last forty years, with your music.
Your Call's Very Important to Us. Please Hold. (Lil’ Beethoven – 2002)
How Do I Get to Carnegie Hall? (Lil’ Beethoven – 2002)
B.C. (Propaganda – 1974)
Here in Heaven (Kimono My House – 1974)
Academy Award Performance (No 1. in Heaven – 1979)
Those Mysteries (Introducing Sparks – 1977)
Good Morning (Exotic Creatures of the Deep – 2008)
Falling in Love With Myself Again (Kimono My House – 1974)
Big Boy (Big Beat – 1976)
What Would Katherine Hepburn Say (unreleased song – 1993 / part of the It’s A Mael World collection)
Excerpts from The Seduction Of Ingmar Bergman : "I Am Ingmar Bergman", The Studio Commissary, Limo Driver (Welcome To Hollywood), "Oh My God" (The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman – 2009)
Nicotina (Angst In My Pants – 1982)
Popularity (In Outer Space – 1983)
This Town Ain't Big Enough for Both of Us (Kimono My House – 1974)
How Are You Getting Home? (Indiscreet – 1975)
Suburban Homeboy (Lil’ Beethoven – 2002)
When Do I Get to Sing "My Way" (Gratuitous Sax and Senseless Violins – 1994)
Tryouts for the Human Race (No 1. in Heaven – 1979)
The Number One Song in Heaven (No 1. in Heaven – 1979)
Revenge Of Two Hands One Mouth (new song)