Sparks Give “All That and More” to Finish Their World Tour at The Hollywood Bowl

Photo by Bob Lee for the Los Angeles Beat.

In the fifty-odd years that they have been a band, Sparks have never been more widely loved by the public than they are at this moment. They haven’t even had a recent hit exactly, just a popular documentary, a well-received new album and a filmed musical. But there’s a cumulative base-building effect when you stick around that long, continuously producing inspired, worthwhile new material against all odds. You spend a lot of years out of step with the times, but if you’re still operating when the times finally catch up to you, perhaps you can do something with that. They kicked off this tour for the album A Steady Drip Drip Drip at the Disney Hall and finished it last weekend at the Hollywood Bowl, their largest headlining show ever, having hit many festival stages in between. The increased spotlight seems to have only done them favors, this was a show aimed at the big room, even as it ignored a lot of obvious crowd pleasers from their history.

While their early albums from the seventies got only three positions in the set list, this was the big, loud, guitar-driven version of Sparks recognizable as the band that made those albums. Sparks sets usually are heavy on the new material, and whatever oldies get selected tend to be the ones that fit well with the new ones. Ron Mael was recently quoted saying that, as long as they feel they can continue to evolve in some kind of way, they can justify being up there. This was not a Sparks show that could have taken place in any other era.

Even if only a few of the tunes are familiar, the sensibility still is. There are lyrics describing odd people in very particular predicaments, delivered in a high voice with an athletic verbal flow that recalls Gilbert and Sullivan. And there is an aggressive piano player leading the charge. While Sparks music has been greatly varied in style and appearance, these elements remain visible across their twenty-six albums. And their capacity on stage seems undiminished after decades in business; Russell still sings high and prances energetically, Ron still plays impeccable piano and does that funny dance at the lip of the stage, the closest thing they have to a “smash your guitar!” bit of predictable showmanship. The Maels’ real showmanship is more old-fashioned – they manage to bring the show back to town every few years with some new tricks added. Not every audience would tolerate this, but this one does.

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