Sparks, Bush Hall (13 June 2012)

A brisk walk from Shepherd’s Bush and down the Uxbridge Road, Bush Hall has had a bit of a renaissance over the last few years. A renovated Edwardian dance hall, it’s been host to quite a few intimate gigs by well known acts and tonight it was the turn of Sparks.

After a genre-hopping 40 year career (including, most recently, a collaboration with pop-noirette Gemma Ray, who I spotted at the bar), the Mael brothers have taken a typically idiosyncratic approach to airing selections from their immense back catalogue. The Two Hands, One Mouth tour sees Sparks performing just as a duo (apparently for the first time ever), with songs stripped to quite literally their bare bones.

A now bespectacled Ron Mael looked suitably sinister, sat at his “Ronald” keyboard, whilst younger brother Russell was still as hyperactive as ever, bouncing around the stage for an exhaustive (and surely exhausting) two hour set. With the often complex arrangements reduced to just a piano accompaniment, it leant the songs a different feel and highlighted Ron Mael’s very witty writing.

The usual suspects lurked within the set-list, with This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both Of Us appearing surprisingly early during the night (Russell Mael’s pipes are still remarkably up to those high notes). There were excerpts from the 2009 opus, The Seduction Of Ingmar Bergman (with chants from the audience of “Ron! Ron! Ron!” every time Ron Mael came close to a microphone), and there were even oddities like The Wedding Of Jacqueline Kennedy To Russell Mael thrown in.

For the encore, the Mael brothers returned (fittingly enough, under a spinning glitter ball) for a run through of the Giorgio Moroder produced Number One Song In Heaven and Beat The Clock, with the sleek electro sheen of the album replaced by a pounding techno synth sound. As if there weren’t already enough surprises, Russell took over keyboard duties whilst Ron gave us a quick Charleston, a broad grin on his face. Who’d have thunk?

Sparks now take a bit of a breather before re-commencing the Two Hands, One Mouth tour in October. On the strength of tonight, an inventive approach to a greatest hits (that never were) show proves that the brothers Mael still have the spark (sorry) to come up with the unexpected for quite a while yet.

Richard Pearmain

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