Anyone who loves Sparks remembers the moment the band entered their lives. This writer’s gateway was the glorious synth-pop of the classic single “When I’m With You”. Of course, the legend of the Californian brothers Ron and Russell Mael brothers had been built way before then. Sparks seemingly re-entered the zeitgeist with the double whammy of 2021’s Edgar Wright documentary The Sparks Brothers and last year’s cameo from Cate Blanchett, who danced in a canary yellow suit in the film clip for “The Girl Is Crying in Her Latte”.
Tonight in Brisbane, there are at least two people paying homage to Cate’s bright clobber; the Blanchett tribute has happened at virtually every gig Sparks they’ve played on their mammoth 40-date world tour that comes to an end, here, in front of 1500 paying customers in Brisbane.
In the same city the previous night, it made perfect sense for Paul McCartney to pack forty thousand fans into a stadium. It makes less sense, however, that Sparks aren’t playing to at least half that amount, but such are the vagaries of rock ‘n’ roll. And, frankly, if they’d have enjoyed an easy ride with their mix of ‘art rock, glam, big band swing, electro disco and new-wave’, as their bio explains, to the popper most of the topper most, Sparks wouldn’t be as bloody interesting as they are today.
Tonight the brothers, Ron (78) and Russell (75) kick off with “So May We Start” and “The Girl Is Crying in Her Latte”.
Where does Russell get his energy from? Maybe it’s clean living and calisthenics. Maybe he and Mick Jagger share recipes and personal trainers. His voice certainly defies age, while his dancing challenges gravity. Beside him, Ron sits in near-stillness at the keyboard playing note after glorious note.
John Lennon once referred to them as the band “with Hitler on the piano.” McCartney dressed up as Ron in the “Coming Up” video. Such is Sparks appeal.
Backed by a four-piece band that run the gamut from 70’s rock to new wave and beyond, the backdrop is ever-changing neon that – like the band – could – and probably should – be in a stadium. Russell, out front, is ‘bringing it’… as if he is actually playing in one.
Russell’s falsetto remains magnificent and their unique brand of postmodern pop delights all night. The aforementioned “When I’m With You” is a stand-out, as is “Balls”. Which, speaking of the latter, you have to accept that this is what the Mael brothers have… otherwise they wouldn’t be here, doing what they do and being Sparks.
Ron eventually leaves the piano and takes his spot centre stage for the hilarious “Shopping Mall of Love”. Later he’ll dance a jig. This is the first time the band have ever played Brisbane and tonight they pull out all stops.
Nearing the encore, the band brings out the big guns, “The Number One Song in Heaven” and ‘This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both of Us”. The record sales may be relatively modest, but their influence (hello The Pet Shop Boys) is huge.
“Gee, That Was Fun” sums up the gig perfectly and brings the main set to a close. Returning for an encore, the show closes with “My Baby’s Taking Me Home” and “All That”.
The brothers then take the mic and wax lyrical about what the 39 previous shows on the world tour have meant to them. Russell pulls on a shirt that has ‘Australia’ emblazoned across the chest. They’re thankful for the love, and we’re thankful for the songs. Ron says the support will lift them to new heights. Bold and somehow beautiful. Long may they run.