Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Sparks @ Casino de Paris - April 19th, 2022

Much has been written about the resurgence Sparks have been enjoying recently, and while it is tempting to treat it as such, this isn't a comeback. Sparks never left, never stopped being creative, never stopped releasing excellent records and never stopped entertaining crowds the world over. But, with the release of two movies (a documentary on their career and a musical that they wrote), a typically fantastic new album and a world tour, their pandemic years have been very prolific indeed and it does seem like they are, in the parlance of our time, having a moment.

Tonight's show was postponed several times for obvious reasons, so it was a treat to welcome the Mael brothers and their crew back to Paris, nearly five years after their last full concert in the city. After a quick  tape intro of Chostackovitch's Festive Overture, Sparks took the stage with the opening song from their movie Annette. For nearly two hours, from the parodic hard rock of I predict, the ironic baroque orchestral pop of Suburban Homeboy, the surrealist glam-rock This Town Ain't Big Enough For Both Of Us, the majestic Eurodance of When Do I Get To Sing My Way, to the earnest, heartfelt balladry of set closer All That, the band let every emotion in their palette steadily drip, drip onto a willing audience.

Frontman Russ Mael may be well into his seventies but you couldn't tell from his onstage demeanor: if you squint a little, he still has the adolescent silhouette of a hipster David Bowie from California... if you can imagine such a thing.

With a career spanning half a century, it's impossible for them to play every hit, semi-hit, classic or fan favorite. But the show was so good, so well paced, so fun, that  no one was bemoaning the absence of such or such song. Because what matters is that they brought the quintessence of the band, focusing on the current record of course but also digging deep into their repertoire (show of hands: who expected to hear Wonder Girl?), pleasing die-hards and casuals alike. 

As has been the case for the past few decades now, one of the highlights of every Sparks show is when, during the Giorgio Moroder-produced hit The Number One Song In Heaven, Ron Mael breaks character, steps out from behind his keyboards, shedding his calvinist persona, indulging in an uncharacteristic bit of stage pageantry, and starts dancing, grinning from ear to ear, while the audience goes appropriately apeshit.

Another highlight was French soprano singer Catherine Trottman who came to harmonize with Russell on Annette's Aria, a truly breathtaking moment.

The crowd was surprisingly young, another sign that the Mael brothers are experiencing a revival of sorts. What is it about their music that speaks to young and older people alike? There is no definitive answer. Perhaps this realization, as I was exiting the concert hall: Sparks are fun, and funny, but they are not goofy. Similarly, Sparks are light, but they are not shallow. Sparks are theatrical, but they are not fake. Sparks are pop, but they are not populist. They do not appear to the lowest common denominator. They do not manufacture emotions.

Hopefully it won't be another half decade until we see the Mael brothers on stage again.

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