Perusing the record racks at East-West Records and Woolco while growing up in Orlando, Florida, I came across Sparks’ “Kimono My House,” “Propaganda” and “Angst In My Pants” albums. I was in awe and intrigued, and would have laugh-out-loud moments in the store because I thought the art-pop band’s record covers were hilarious!
Sparks feature brothers Ron Mael on the keyboards and lead vocalist Russell Mael, and various guitarists and drummers during its 50-year music career.
The album-cover art is just part of Sparks’ story. The musical legacy continues with the band’s smart and witty lyrics that are composed by maestro Ron and brought to life by Russell’s falsetto and instrumentation.
At the time, girls my age were digging Shaun Cassidy, Leif Garrett and other 1970s heartthrobs while I preferred Sparks, Cheap Trick, The Cars, The Beatles, Wings, The Beach Boys, the Bay City Rollers, Elton John, the Ramones and KISS as well as listening to my mom’s seven-inch record collection from the 1950s and ’60s.
As my musical taste advanced in the 1980s to include Duran Duran, Rick Springfield, The B-52’s, INXS, Depeche Mode, The Psychedelic Furs, The Go-Go’s, U2, Tears for Fears and other alternative- and new-wave artists, Sparks remained one of my faves, and in heavy rotation.
As the pendulum continues to swing forward, the live, concert experience was as important as listening to my records. Seeing my favorite rock gods on stage took my love of music to a whole new level. I also hoped that I would have an opportunity to watch Sparks perform on stage in or near Orlando.
Fast forward more than 20 years later to a Mid-Atlantic vacation that my husband Dan and I took to celebrate our 18-year wedding anniversary in October 2013. We flew to Baltimore, Maryland and rented a car, so we could drive to Washington, D.C.; Sleepy Hollow, New York; Salem, Massachusetts; and New York, New York.
Whenever we travel, I research and find out which bands and musicians are performing on our itinerary. I screamed with excitement when I saw that Sparks would be performing at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 27, 2013. Dan liked Sparks’ music, but wasn’t an uber fan like moi. I couldn’t believe that I would finally get to see Sparks! I was over the moon!
The 9:30 Club is a wonderful, intimate concert venue that reminded us of The Beacham in Orlando, and was perfect for watching Sparks’ keyboard-and-voice concert during “The Revenge of Two Hands One Mouth” tour. Ron and Russell were amazing! The stripped-down show had a cabaret vibe, and I felt it was really special to watch Ron and Russell performing their music in that format. I was up front during the entire concert, but Dan decided to stand back and watch the show from afar. You can view the set list here, but it’s missing “My Baby’s Taking Me Home.” You also can watch a performance from the same tour in Oslo, Norway in October 2012.
Photography was prohibited during the concert, so the only photo that I have is a picture that I took of a sign, which states, “Sparks kindly requests that there be no video, no photography, no audio recording and no charcoal drawings of tonight’s performance. Thank you for your understanding.” I busted out laughing when I read that no charcoal drawings were allowed during the show! That was a real hoot!
Now, full-speed ahead seven years later, and the world is in lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the bright spots during that turbulent time was the release of Sparks’ 25th album “A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip” in May 2020.
Sparks boosted spirits and kept themselves and their fans sane during the pandemic by posting album updates and comical, self-isolation videos on its Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages. I highly recommend following Sparks on social media! The band’s social media pages are very informative and entertaining.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continued, longtime Sparks fan and filmmaker Edgar Wright’s long-awaited documentary, “The Sparks Brothers,” hit theaters on June 18, 2021. I saw the trailer online and couldn’t wait to watch the documentary! The film features Todd Rundgren; Nick Rhodes and John Taylor of Duran Duran; Beck; Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers; and many other fans and musicians.
Raconteurs Ron and Russell Mael share heartfelt and amusing tales about their childhood and musical career in this approximately two-and-a-half-hour picture. Sparks fans will love the documentary, which is currently streaming on Netflix. You also can purchase the DVD online. I give the documentary five sparks!
Two months after the documentary was released, Sparks hit the big screen once again with the musical “Annette,” which has been described as a rock opera. The film’s story and music were written by Ron and Russell Mael and directed by Leos Carax. The storyline follows a stand-up comedian (Adam Driver) and his opera singer wife (Marion Cotillard), and how their lives change after they have a child (Devyn McDowell) named Annette. The film also stars Simon Helberg, and includes cameos by the Mael brothers. The film won five French Cesar awards, including best director (Leos Carax) and original score (Ron and Russell Mael).
After the two film releases, Mael mania ensued! Fans geared up for Sparks’ 2022 tour, which occurred March through the beginning of May. The dynamic duo also performed two nights at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles in February.
I really wanted to see Sparks during “A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip” tour, but I hadn’t been on a plane since my trip to England in August 2019. I’m vaccinated and boosted, but my comfort level for flying wasn’t at 100% because of the COVID-19 pandemic and unruly passengers.
I started to feel less reluctant about flying after the Omicron variant cases declined and places started to reopen. After much deliberation, the only option that worked best with my schedule was the Sparks concert at The Town Hall in New York City.
I’m a planner, so making a spontaneous decision to fly to New York City to see Sparks the week before the first Town Hall concert on March 28 was a ballsy move on my part, that’s for sure! Luckily, the stars aligned and everything worked out, so I could visit my friends in New York City and attend the Sparks show.
Fortunately, my last-minute ticket purchase was an orchestra seat that wasn’t too far from the stage.
I enjoyed watching Ron and Russell perform as a twosome in October 2013, but really looked forward to seeing Sparks as a complete band.
Before the show, the upbeat, 1960s music that played, which may have been Ron and Russell’s pump-up music of choice, invigorated the audience.
As the fog billowed across the stage, I knew the concert was about to start. I was excited to watch stoic keyboardist Ron take his seat in front of the keyboards and tickle the ivories and dashing frontman Russell sing beautifully while bopping to the beats.
The opening number was “So May We Start” from the “Annette” soundtrack, which was truly apropos.
The two-hour musical journey didn’t disappoint Sparks fans, and continued with 22 additional songs, including classics and crowd favorites throughout the group’s five decades in the music industry.
Highlights included “Music That You Can Dance To,” which caused fans to shimmy frantically, Russell and the audience singing the band’s mantra “My Baby’s Taking Me Home” and Ron doing his shuffle dance during “The Number One Song in Heaven.”
Tunes from “A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip” also took center stage, which included “Lawnmower,” “Stravinsky’s Only Hit” and “All That.”
A theatrical-style performance wouldn’t be complete without costuming. Russell wore a black turtleneck and vest jacket adorned with a sparkly Hello Kitty brooch paired with chartreuse-looking pants and black-and-yellow sneakers. He also wore a matching chartreuse-looking vest jacket with an Idol Artist pin throughout the tour. The stellar backing band matched Ron’s stage attire by wearing black shirts, pants and shoes.
The Town Hall concert was all that and more! I don’t want to spoil the surprise for other fans by giving too much away, especially if they’re attending Sparks performances during music festivals later this summer. I want them to enjoy the experience as much as I did in New York City.
I was a lucky fan who was handed one of the band members’ set lists after the concert, which was a spectacular souvenir! I also gave Ron and Russell Orlando gifts (Lake Eola Park snow-globe magnets and orange pins) from the front row before the show concluded.
As I had mentioned earlier, Sparks’ social media pages feature a plethora of playfulness portrayed in its photos and videos. The band’s tour posts are equally funny and sweet, and will make you smile and laugh instantly!
Sparks shared a video on social media, featuring Ron and Russell performing “This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both of Us” at a train station in Paris, France during the tour. The heartwarming video features an excited fan who gets the chance of a lifetime by joining them in the performance. The video currently has more than 840,000 views. It would be wonderful if the video could get a million views!
Sparks, thanks for taking your fans along for the ride! I haven’t traveled in a while because of the COVID-19 pandemic, so seeing your show in New York City was worth the trip! It also was nice to live vicariously through you during your travels in North America and Europe.
Here are some of my favorite photos from Sparks’ tour diary, which can be viewed on the band’s social media pages.
The Mael brothers are dapper troubadours who have been cracking me up and making me smile with their brilliant music for more than 40 years. I hope fans will have a chance to attend one of Sparks’ concerts later this summer, especially if they didn’t see the band perform during the spring 2022 tour.
Ron and Russell are planning to release a new album and tour again in the future. Visit allsparks.com and Sparks’ social media pages for more information.