Like most kids growing up in the 70's I was equal parts traumatised and fascinated by the sight of Hitler playing keyboards on 'Top of the Pops'. Ron Mael's menacing gimlet eyed stare was in sharp contract to the energetic antics of his brother Russell, Sparks lead singer.
It came as a bit of a surprise to me about ten years ago to learn that Sparks were still going, and actually producing some pretty decent music. Then on a few visits to D'Vinyl - Roath's finest second hand record store - I hit a rich seam of cheap Sparks records while crate digging, and my love of the band started to grow.
So Sian and I found ourselves in Bristol Tuesday night to see Sparks at the O2 Academy. Sparks have enjoyed an Indian Summer recently due to a collaboration with Franz Ferdinand, and their new album 'Hippopotamus' which is superb, arch and catchy like all the great songs in their back catalogue.
The O2 is a shit venue. Terrible overpriced cooking lager, 'orrible toilets and now extra draconian security just to make you feel really welcome. Some of our mates were thinking of going but were put off by the O2. We went for a couple in the Hatchet (a great unpretentious Heavy Metal pub across the road from the O2), and got in a few minutes before Sparks took to the stage.
Dressed in co-ordinating stripes (and Ron looking menacing and dapper in a stripped suit) the band were straight out of the gates with a song from the new album - who's name escapes me - and then BOOM! second song 'At Home! At Work! At Play!,' amazing. The Mael brothers were backed by a very tight band and they bounced through a set where songs from 'Hippopotamus' rubbed shoulders with the hits. I'm a bigger fan of their 70's guitar led stuff than their 80's more electronic songs, but holy shit 'Number 1 Song in Heaven was jaw droopingly good. Midway through the song Ron got up from behind his keyboard and did a dance, it was even more terrifying than his deathly 'It puts the lotion in the basket' stare. Russell spent the set bouncing around the stage and it's hard to believe that he's 68, he did look knackered at the end though.
It's a mark of a great gig that Sparks could do 'This Town Ain't Big Enough for the Both of Us' before the encore, including original squealing guitar solo. The encore included a storming 'Armature Hour' and 'Edith Piaf (Said It Better Than Me)' and it was out into the warm September evening.
A great gig and one of my favourite of the year.