Live Music + Gig Reviews

Sparks @ Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London

27 November 1999

“They’re a bit like Kraftwerk,” someone told me prior to this gig. This was just before the idiosyncratic American brothers Mael and their percussive accomplice appeared on stage in the Shepherd’s Bush Empire for this, the latest wheeling-out of the tried-and-tested experience that is Sparks.

For the benefit of those who’ve yet to see it, this old theatre boasts a big stage. Tonight, big balloons filled it. Big, nay huge, balloons. One Mael brother, surely a clone of Mark Lamarr, danced in a Chaplinesque manner across the front of the stage to the obvious delight of fans, who cheered loudly at his every movement.

Then he stomped off to play a synth as brother Russell (he be the vocalist) appeared dressed as a cat burglar and thanked us all for flying Aeroflot repeatedly. As the scent of several Camberwell carrots spread its aromatic way around the venue, it was clear even to the uninitiated that here was no standard pop gig.

Much leaping about was seen and much energy was expended by the fans, whose love of interesting herbs clearly failed to have the necessary mellowing effect. Just in front of us someone appeared to be suffering from epilepsy, but it was a false alarm as he paused his fit to grab his plastic glass of lager, slurp from it and then resume whence he left off. He was nearly as entertaining as the stage activity. But what was this supposed to be? We found ourselves to be laughing uncontrollably.

“Angst in your pants!” Russell Mael intoned, repeating himself several times and gyrating across the stage, taking care not to burst any balloons or blood vessels. If this was anything at all it was fun, odd, different, bizarre even – but people do say that about really good pop music.

Kraftwerk? Well, the Maels have a synth or two, I suppose, and are around the right age – but they’ve far too much energy, Jim. Tonight was as far away from robot-pop as Kylie is from a job playing basketball. Now I’m going to have to buy some albums to find out what all this pants talk’s about…

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Sparks: “You never know when you’re foretelling the future in a song” – Interview
Sparks – A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip
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Sparks @ Ritz, Manchester