Well, I lost my live!Sparks virginity last night.
And what a way to lose it!
We got in the queue at about half past six. It wasn't as long as I expected but there were a good number there, including a very talkative, very large Scottish man who is apparently a BNF but I didn't catch his name. Tumblr user parts-of-me-unravelling, her husband and some friends had been queuing since 4 to get front row, which was my original itenary before it was shot down. I didn't catch them in the queue, but I would see them later, as you'll see.
Soon, the queue was split into balcony and standing, and my queue went down to around twenty. It was still some time before doors, so I looked around at the sparkling creatures on display. Many, many Sparks T-shirts, official or otherwise, including a very arty Ron one, an original Gratuitous Sax number and a "HMS BBC" one inspired by the the NTIOTBBC video. One girl pulled up in a black jumpsuit over a stripy T-shirt, looking a LOT like Russ circa Indiscreet.
At seven the venue welcomed us in, and with scaffolding everywhere we had to go through a tunnel to the door where security gave us all a quick rubdown (no strip searches, luckily!). I went straight to the front of the stage while the person I was with went to get some refreshment and bumped into POMU's friends! POMU herself was at the merch stand, and once the lagers came (£4.70 a pint and tasted literally like chilled piss) I ran straight there! There were no YETRTBAD singles sadly, but I filled my boots regardless, buying the Woofer logo tote and T-shirt, some badges and the guidebook. It all came to around £60, which was quite expensive, but I've been to dearer gigs. Fairly decent quality too, and the tote is environmentally friendly which is always a plus.
While waiting for the support to come on, I, POMU and friends got talking. The discussion turned to Jet and Martin Gordon. The consensus was that the Jet album was good (I've only heard Nothing to Do With Us, to be fair, but that's a belter), and I brought up that Martin was doing a new single with Big Beat-era Spark Hilly Boy Michaels. I jokingly suggested that Sparks have so many ex-members that there should be an "ex- Sparks association", but honestly that sounds like a decent idea.
The support act was Mr. B the Gentleman Rhymer, a "chap-hop" artist who combined rap and dance music with George Formby-style ukelele. I wasn't expecting too much, but HE. BLEW. US. AWAY. I didn't catch the first song because I had to fight my way to the toilets and back, but the rest of the set was brilliant. Highlights included his "German folk song", which turned out to be a cover of Kraftwerk's The Model (complete with ukelele solo!), his Kanye diss track in which he assumes the role of his teacher on parents' night, and his loving tribute to David Bowie (Starman) to close. I can see him becoming an ENORMOUS cult favourite.
After Mr. B, the roadies came on to get set up. The pregame music was opera, chosen apparently as always by Ron himself. I thought the roadies would only take a couple of minutes, having set up the majority of gear beforehand, but after five minutes I thought "fuck it" and forced my way through the rapidly-expanding crowd to the toilets again. Russell forbid I get caught short during THIS.
When I was in the toilet, I thought the gig had started because I heard a voice from afar that sounded just like Ron's. I rushed out to find... the roadies still setting up the gear. Whew is an understatement! I made my way back to POMU and friends (moon-over-kentucky and asongthatsingsitself from Tumblr were also very close by but I didn't see them. dinkydiamond was also apparently at the gig but I didn't see her either. Not that I know of) and got talking to another fan, a very butch looking girl (and I mean this all in the best way). We discussed producers, agreeing that Moroder was a genius but Harold Faltermeyer was a control freak who wouldn't even let Ron play the keyboards on Terminal Jive! I then said I was glad they switched to Mack for Whomp That Sucker and Angst in My Pants. Very glad. I also met this autistic guy who just so happened to be travelling on the same train home with me the next day (we discussed Tony Visconti and how he produced the new Damned album because I mentioned I was going to see The Damned next month. Yes, they will have Captain Sensible!).
At just before 9, the lights dimmed. First, the backing band came on, followed quickly by Ron and Russell. Nothing could prepare me for the adrenaline rush of seeing God (and his keyboardist brother) literally five feet away from me. I screamed like an 11 year old at a Bieber show. Ron and Alex Cassanoff, new auxillary keyboardist, launched straight into a distinctive violin riff and Russ began lambasting those who dare bother God 24/7. The new band is extremely tight and did What the Hell is it This Time? a wonderful service.
The next track was A Big Surprise. Just kidding, but it was a big surprise. Hasta Manana Monsieur!!!!! This brought the house down (or Kimonoed it!)! It's fantastic on record, but it's absolutely BELTING live! The new band is musically very reminiscent of the classic Mael/Mael/White/Hampton/Diamond lineup, which is probably the reason there were so many early tunes during the set. Another surprise came in Russ playing the maracas!!! By the way, the theme of the day was pink, with Russ in a pink military jacket and Converse and Ron in a pink tie. The rest of the band wore matching outfits of pink denim jackets, black shirts, grey trousers and pink Converse. Russ pulled some very Freddie Mercury poses in that jacket- wonder if it was intentional?
Then Russ decides to rap with the crowd for a bit. This is supposedly the first time Sparks have played Leeds since 1974, but I'm convinced there was a gig during the Indiscreet tour in late 1975. I do know that at their first Leeds gig (on the Kimono My House tour) twenty girls fainted and ALL of them went back inside after being carried out. Some fainted again and repeated the process!
Next up was Unaware, probably my least favourite track on Hippopotamus. The band still did a great job of it though.
Another surprise next- Propaganda/At Home, At Work, At Play! This was a VERY rocking rendition with Eli Pearl and Evan Weiss at their absolute best.
Onto Tryouts for the Human Race. A great rock arrangement of the Moroder track with Russ jumping around like a man possessed. He is 70 years old this year but moves around as fluidly, if not more so, than he did in the 70s! (when I told my non-fan friend who I dragged along his age after the show, her jaw dropped!) He was so giddy giddy (a track, surprisingly, not on the setlist) I thought he'd fall off the stage!
Then Probably Nothing. What got me about most tracks is they sounded near identical to the album versions, regardless of era and lead instrument! This led, inevitably, into Missionary Position. I captured a video of part of this song: It's so Sparks to sing about the plain old sexual position while most other artists are doing songs about anal and 69ing.
Hippopotamus was next. It had an extra verse added after the first, something about a woman in a car. Funny, usually it's This Town that gets the extra verse treatment. My friend, on the way back to the hotel, found it amusing that Sparks were singing about poo. I said "they didn't sing about poo!" and she replied "There's a hippopotamus in my poo." I had to set her straight. "POOL! Swimming pool!" Quite frankly, if there was a hippo in my shit I'd be very worried.
Dick Around, the song that the BBC infamously banned despite having a grand total of zero sexual references, followed. I think it sounded the closest of all the tracks to the album version, probably because it had a hard rock edge to begin with.
Oh, and I HAVE to share this: sometime during the show, Russ took some more time to talk. I'd been blowing kisses at him and smiling at him all night, and according to the person I was with, he seemed to smile a lot in my general direction. During this interval, I shouted "I LOVE YOU RUSSELL!!!!!" and he said "I know you do!" I can't believe it!!!!!! Bieber wouldn't acknowledge his fans in that way! Reason #395839248310x104938291 to love Sparks!
After Dick Around, another surprise in fan favourite BC! The new band, I'm gushing about them I know, but they really bossed the old material. I'm sure Dinky Diamond and Adrian Fisher were smiling down on them.
The Rhythm Thief next, and some audience participation was encouraged for the "oh no, where did the groove go?" parts. We reacted with gusto!
A return to newer tracks with Edith Piaf (Said it Better Than Me). The house came down again for this one!
Then back to the 70s with Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth! This is one of the best live versions I've heard of it! The addition of Alex Cassanoff as auxillary keyboardist really thickened up the sound, and it was evident here with the strings (originally rendered on a Mellotron) being played by him (on his Nord).
Then, Ron played the keyboard riff that launched Indiscreet way back in 1975. We were all expecting Russ to sing "Some day we'll have one extra coastline..." but he had other plans that involved finally getting to sing My Way! You know what this led into (hint: it wasn't Hospitality on Parade).
The Number One Song in Heaven next, and during the instrumental a guy near me said "I feel a dance coming on." So did everyone else, and a chant of "Ron, Ron, Ron" started up while he was still at the keys to herald the famous Ron Mael Shuffle. There's been some speculation about Ron's health as of late, but I can assure you he looked on top of his game tonight!
Then, the iconic piano riff for This Town. I mentioned earlier that the new band was very reminiscent of the third Island lineup, and this only proved it. As fresh and original as it was in 1974. Considering this is usually the last track of the regular set, I was expecting them to go off, but then they closed with Suburban Homeboy, an ode to middle-class white kids who want to be black kids from the projects ("and I say yo dawg to my pool cleaning guy"). Russ introduced the new band and then said goodbye.
Nobody moved. We all wanted more- and we got it.
The guys came back on to a rapturous reception and launched into Change, the only 80s song on the list. I have no idea why no other 80s stuff was included- while the decade does include what is often considered their worst two albums in Music That You Can Dance To and Interior Design, it also featured the legendary trio of Whomp That Sucker, Angst in My Pants and In Outer Space. Again, it was extremely close to the original album version.
And finally, en explosive rendition of Amateur Hour reminiscent of the Fairfield Halls version from 1975, only without screaming girls dogpiling Russ. I wonder if some of the older women I saw were among those?
And then, the final derrie- I mean farewell. They did a photo op with all the fans in the background and I'm in it! It's just my hand but I'm still in it!
As soon as the crowd cleared off, I stumbled through empty pint glasses and headed round the back of the arena. We were the second there- the other was a big bloke who I thought was a roadie. It was very cold by then and I'd only come in a T-shirt, but I didn't mind waiting for the boys. I met a lovely fellow from St. Louis, studying in Dublin, who said he flew over just after his exams had finished just to see the boys in Leeds and London! He had a copy of The Words of Sparks with him, but when I saw him a bit later on the way back to the hotel, he said he didn't get anything signed (If anyone mentioned in this review sees themselves mentioned, drop me a line).
The backstage door opened and closed semiregularly for about twenty minutes. The roadies and security got a, shall we say, mixed reception from the 20 or so hardcore fans who were waiting to get their copies of Hippo, KMH, Exotic Creatures and tits (just kidding!) signed. My friend asked the security guy if photo ops were allowed and he said no. Highly disappointing
Ah well, I had to soldier on.
Two red haired girls walked out, one of whom I knew to be VERY connected to the band. Shortly after, we heard a very familiar Californian twang.
Seconds later, the door opened and Russ (in black lightweight padded jacket and red trousers) and Ron (in suit) greeted the waiting fans. I thrust my copy of Hippo and my crappy marker into Ron's hands, and thanked him with "Thank you, Mr. Mael." The same words were repeated for Russ. I didn't get to hug Russ, but I did make contact with Ron's hand while he was handing over the CD.
This night will live with me forever despite being a blur. My first Sparks show (of hopefully many) and I got more than I could ever have bargained for. Called out by Russ onstage and a signed copy of Hippo. Thank you so much brothers and band for making me very, VERY happy!
Tracks I was expecting but which didn't appear: Sparks Show, When I'm With You, Giddy Giddy (as mentioned above) and You Have Earned the Right to be a Dick.
There were no special guests.
What the Hell is it This Time?
Hasta Manana Monsieur
Propaganda/At Home, At Work, At Play
Tryouts for the Human Race
The Rhythm Thief
Edith Piaf (Said it Better Than Me)
Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth
My Way/When Do I Get to Sing My Way?
The Number One Song in Heaven (inc. shuffle)
Russell Mael (vocals, maracas on Hasta Manana Monsieur)
Ron Mael (keyboards, dancing)
Evan Weiss (guitars, backing vocals)
Eli Pearl (guitars, backing vocals)
Patrick Kelly (bass, backing vocals)
Alex Cassanoff (auxillary keyboards)
Steve Nistor (drums)
Propaganda (3 1/2)
Kimono My House (3)
Lil' Beethoven (2)
No. 1 in Heaven (2)
Gratuitous Sax and Senseless Violins (1)
Hello Young Lovers (1)
Music That You Can Dance To (1)
As you can see, a decent mix of Hippo tracks, hits and other fan favourites.