Concert Review: Sparks Live in Los Angeles, 40th Anniversary Show

LOS ANGELES - From the land that stretches between the San Gabriel mountains to the Pacific ocean come the brothers, Ron and Russell Mael, performing as Sparks, celebrating the 40th anniversary of Kimono My House on Valentine’s Day in LA. A show I was lucky enough to attend, with my beautiful wife and darling friends and I believe, I am falling in love again.

Review and photo by Camden Barbour

My wife, Sharon, and I were invited to a special Valentine's dinner at the home of an LA Sparks fan and friend, Jill Masters. It was an elegant beginning to what we all anticipated would be a special evening at the show. We had a wonderful time listening to Sparks and Mick Ronson over the entree of trout, freshly caught by Ms. Masters and skillfully barbecued using planks by her friend David.

Following dinner, we drove ourselves up and down and around the hills, eventually passing by Dodger Stadium and through Chinatown. We traveled through many different neighborhoods magically spread out across LA. Our excitement was reflected in the lights of the city, the anticipation of the show at the Theatre at the ACE Hotel, and the Sunday best clothes we were all wearing and tearing.

Jill brought Valentine’s day corsages for our party. I felt so glamorous looking at Sharon, Jill, and her partner David, all sparkling in the marquee lights outside the theatre. Other festive Sparks fans milled about the front of the theatre, on the sidewalk, in the uncommonly warm February evening in LA, taking pictures, checking tickets or otherwise mingling in the excitement.

The marquee for the Theatre at the ACE hotel is very tall and wide (the way a marquee should be built). You come through the classic doors into a long narrow lobby. Gradually the lobby leads you back to the doors to the auditorium, on your right. The lobby is full of fans, water stations, bars and the merchandise table. The room is rather dark here due to the dark wood. Spanish Gothic spires adorn every vertical surface or pillar. Other fixtures and adornments are closer to Art Deco in their feel and appearance.

You enter the ground seating in the theatre at first under a low ceiling, which is the floor of the balcony seating. A giant stage greets you from the other side of the theatre. On the stage we saw 30 plus chairs for the orchestra (the percussionists don’t get to sit down). The room opens up quickly to reveal the tall ornate ceiling, well restrained decor and the additional balconies. There are 1,600 seats, and they are all sold out this evening.

Members of the orchestra finally enter and fiddle about, then the conductor enters and gathers their attention. The Overture begins and my excitement surges. I have a very good view from the back of the house. Jill and David sat a few rows closer to the stage. Though I have been a fan of Sparks since high school, this is my first time seeing them.

For those of you who don’t know the album or Sparks. Ron and Russell Mael write and perform songs in a sometimes pop-ish, sometimes rock, sometimes disco, sometimes big band genre. Kimono My House is from the glam-parody era of the 1970s. Some of the songs on the original recording have orchestration intrinsic to the song and some don’t. Some of the songs on the album, Kimono My House have a certain mix of bright guitars and campiness which is out-shined by the unique sound and style of Sparks themselves.

In 1974, New Musical Express wrote, “....every track is brilliant - although I must name ‘Equator’, ‘Complaints’, Amateur Hour’ and ‘Here In Heaven’ as the best tracks, and in that order.” - Steve Morrissey

The Mael brothers have 28 albums to their credit. Within these albums are songs with more sheer wit and artistic nuance than an Orson Wells film festival. Sparks are sophisticated, clever and silly. If I write 10,000 words, I still won’t capture the ingenuity and poise that is Sparks.

Take the lyrics from, “Talent Is An Asset” which deals with the family of Albert Einstein watching over his care as a young man. “Talent is relative, that’s hypothetical...we are his relatives, that’s parenthetical...”

I didn’t expect it, but Russell’s voice sounded exactly like the record produced over 40 years ago. The orchestra added a dimension to the music that suited the songs themselves but also added a unique stage presence to the overall mix of vocals and piano, and reached all the way to the back row.

Russell bounces between verses, like a rabbit ready to run. His brother Ron sits and plays chords and melodies on the piano, without changing his expression much. The orchestra has the best seats and you can see that they are enjoying the show too. Russell moves to center stage to sing his mouthful of words gracefully and precisely. Not one word is thrown away.

Sparks played the entirety of Kimono My House with the 38 piece orchestra, plus familiar songs from their catalog including “Get In the Swing,” “Looks, Looks, Looks,” and “The Number 1 Song In Heaven.” As a surprise, Alex Kapranos from Franz Ferdinand joined in for “When Do I Get to Sing My Way.”

We left the theatre at the ACE Hotel on a wave of Valentine’s Sparks in the warm Los Angeles air, falling in love again with Sparks. Sparks is Ron Mael: Keyboards and Russell Mael: Vocals. 38 Piece Orchestra: Orchestrations & Arrangements by Nathan Kelly and conducted by Suzie Katayama.

Song list:
This Town Ain't Big Enough for Both of Us
Amateur Hour
Falling In Love With Myself Again
Here in Heaven
Thank God It's Not Christmas
Hasta Manana Monsieur
Talent Is an Asset
In My Family
The Rhythm Thief
Get in the Swing
Let the Monkey Drive
Looks, Looks, Looks
Pulling Rabbits Out of a Hat
Excerpts from The Seduction Of Ingmar Bergman
Dick Around
When Do I Get to Sing "My Way" w/ Alex Kapranos
The Number One Song in Heaven