Live Review: Sparks @ Palais Theatre, Melbourne

30 October 2023 | 4:05 pm | Guido Farnell

Full of energy, Sparks delivered a very special show that many of their fans about town have been craving for years.


Sparks (Supplied)

Davey Lane, resplendent in a plaid suit, warmed the crowd with a selection of mellow tunes. It’s a laidback start to the night but the You Am I guitarist can barely conceal his excitement for the Sparks show, announcing that he had already spent his fees at the merch stall.

22 years since their last Australian tour, the irrepressible Sparks finally got their act together and hit the road that brought them to Australia for a handful of dates around the country. “We were just teenagers back then,” jokes septuagenarian vocalist Russell Mael. After seeing the wildly enthusiastic welcome they got from fans, Sparks instantly regretted not returning here earlier.

By the time the Palais was packed out with fans, the excitement and love in the room for this iconic band was palpable. The crowd assembled tonight was a delightful of mix of people who grew up listening to this music in the early ‘70s ,and younger listeners who have recently discovered them through recent renaissance moments such as their musical Annette and documentary The Sparks Brothers (the latter of which came out in 2021). The fact remains that people of all generations have been discovering their music for the past 50 years. Their 26 albums are a treasure trove of tunes in which to lose yourself completely.

For almost every song they played, there was another song you wished could have been included on the setlist. But starting at the beginning is just common sense. So May We Start, with its slight operatic overtones, starts tonight’s proceedings to elicit a wild and joyous response from the crowd. It’s a theatrical prelude to the title track from The Girl Is Crying In Her Latte, which presents a melancholy moment to hyperactive beats with plenty of bang.

“So many people are crying in their latte,” sings Russell Mael without a shred of empathy as the tune pokes a stick at those suffering from long standing middle class first world problems. Meanwhile, Ron Mael gets busy with his trademark deadpan shtick, plonking out chords on his keyboard with feigned boredom. They may be older now, but Sparks are still in fine form and aim to thrill with material drawn from across their illustrious career.

Sparks have always existed at the somewhat awkward juxtaposition of a broad range of musical styles that takes in the glam of the early ‘70s, electro disco, vaudeville, musical comedy, opera, EDM and hard grinding rock. Tonight’s show seemingly smoothes out the mix, primarily with electronic arrangements that evolved in to grinding rockers or just straight up dance numbers that brought the crowd to their feet. The brothers Mael are supported by a band of four who play it super tight.

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A cult classic of sorts, Angst In My Pants shifted away from the quirky electro rockabilly vibe of the original and merged the guitars with beefed up beats. Reaching back to 1973, the obscure Beaver O’Lindy is presented as a solid glam rocker that dials down some of the operatic falsetto weirdness of the original. It blurs into electro disco goodness of When I’m With You.

Decades ago, this duo from California snatched absurdism from the hands of European intellectuals and presented it in the context of the quirky pop rock musical universe they have created. Wrapped in ‘70s styled glam guitars Nothing Is As Good as They Say It Is exemplifies their approach as they dish lyrics about a baby who has seen enough after a few days and wishes to return to where he came from. This song probably best summarises everything Sparks are about. They embrace madcap black comedy and romance the ridiculous whilst critiquing modern life.

Ron’s bored lyrical recitation on Shopping Mall Of Love reflects deep ennui with the kitsch banality of shopping and sex. Settling into more bizarre alternative realities We Go Dancing name checks Skrillex and Diplo as second rate DJs when compared to Kim Jong-un who takes North Korea dictator dancing with mandatory raves for the nation. As bizarre and zany as it gets the Mael brothers have enough charm and charisma to pull this delightful weirdness off.

A ‘90s acid bassline introduces Balls. It has Russell Mael literally bouncing about the stage while explaining the importance of having a pair to succeed. Later The Toughest Girl In Town is just vintage ‘80s synth pop perfection. The insistent Music That You Can Dance To with no heavy message is an ode that lovingly revels in the joys of losing yourself in music. It’s a start to the crescendo of tunes that will bring the night down. When Do I Get to Sing ‘My Way’, The Number One Song In Heaven and This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both Of Us are the fan favourites that bring the crowd to their feet and dancing with wild abandon. Even Ron pulled some hilariously whacky shapes during #1 Song In Heaven.

The sardonic Gee, That Was Fun wraps up the show with somewhat bittersweet end-of-relationship reflections redolent with the smell of regret. Encores comprised of My Babys taking Me Home and the anthemic All That brings down the evening all to soon. Full of energy, Sparks delivered a very special show that many of their fans about town have been craving for years.