Writing and Photography by Bobby Talamine
Edited by Fiza Javid
Ron and Russell Mael.
Entities only to the themselves.
As indie as indie gets.
And in regards to reviewing anything about them performance wise, especially after well over 50 years of being a band- you have to start there to understand all things in their world wise view on things and sustaining the utmost in creativity.
To start- look at the buildup to this show at the Copernicus Center in Chicago, let alone the announcement of their North American tour back in late 2021.
Nothing but a conscious craziness in dialog between excited and rabid fans, doing their best to convert the peeps out there still not in the know.
Look online as well as how they love to self promote whichever city they're playing in on whichever night of performing:
The day before Chicago they were in Minneapolis / St Paul- at the St Paul Fitzgerald Center. I assume Russell took the photo of his brother Ron, standing in front of a window with a little sign that said "Being weird is just a side effect of being awesome".
That about sums it up- at least a little bit.
As for the day of Chicago's show- the brothers I assume were at some truck stop off of 94 (or something similar), past breakfast, and sitting in a diner reading the Chicago dailies- Russell with the Tribune, Ron with the Sun Times- stating simply "Chicago! See you tonight at the Copernicus Center!"
And it's been like this for the whole tour so far- a brief caption on the city they're in, with some of the level of excitedness, with a modicum of detachment.
I bring this up because again, Ron and Russell are a world unto themselves, creating and performing, with no outside influence on being pressured into professional change to match the current times of whatever.
Just look at the their setlist as an example:
23 songs (including the encore) that are all over the map-
Songs about Edith Piaf.
Songs about Igor Stravinsky
Songs about Shopping Malls.
Songs about interpretations if given the chance of singing "My Way".
Songs about music that you can dance to.
Or even songs about a town that's not big enough for the both of us.
So let's say you're a fledgling band that us strapped for cash.
That you need outside help to sustain the delusional dream of being popular rock stars, and don't want to give up the delusional dream.
And the outside help has opinions on how to proceed- to make you amazingly popular.
I have questions: first and foremost- To what extent? To sustain what exactly? To be "One and Done"?
I could go on.
Just look at the songs and what they're about above as examples.
Would outside influence entertain any possibility of being in a studio and convincing said short sighted knuckleheads that "Me and my brother dig this song we wrote about Edith Piaf" - or any of the others?
I say no- that it would be troublesome, most likely relegated to a later collection of the hits (whatever they are) and B sides.
How disgusting to even dream of such a thing regarding the Mael brothers.
So here they are- doing things their way, and still around to embrace their solid fans who've been with them through thick and thin, and want to support and cherish their creativity every which way.
And from 2021 to the present- has been two solid years for them creativity wise, what with the beautiful film musical "Annette", and the equally awesome documentary which came out last year on them titled "The Sparks Brothers"- (A must see, by the way), a terrific album released back in 2020 titled "A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip", let alone this insanely popular by all accounts North American Tour.
So- Sparks are still relevant, and at this point, need no explaining to the unknowable.
Have no time for people who think they've heard of the band, back when they released "Kimono My House" in '74, with the release of the song "This Town Ain't Big Enough for Both of Us", and then jumped ship a couple years later.
It's my belief that Ron and Russell can write a captivating song about anything- I mean anything.
Not just the songs mentioned above in this review as examples- there's plenty plenty more.
If say, they were locked in a padded cell for 48 hours- food and drink pushed forth from the flap below, they could still produce, only if they were allowed scraps of paper to compose something, let alone lyric wise.
Their minds would be abuzz equally to being free of said padded cell.
They obviously don't need much pushing and prodding to create- when they're ready, they're really ready.
Which makes this tour, with a stop in Chicago, that much more special.
No offense to the last time they came through town which back in 2013 at Lincoln Hall - a great show, cabaret wise. But it was just the two of them. No band to speak of.
And yes- Russell utilized the stage as he always does, and you left Lincoln Hall refreshed.
But now to the present day, with a full band on tour? Drums included?
That's my kinda Sparks.
A Sparks with lots of sparks- amped and elevated with dignified strobe lighting, brothers still front and center.
A Sparks which opened with "So May We Start"- an energetic and whipped up to a froth kind of a tune from their musical "Annette", and then off to the races with "Angst in my Pants", into "Tips for Teens".
The setlist covered the gamut, down to the closing before encore with "This Town Ain't Big Enough for Both of Us"- as electrifying and trailblazing as back in the day of the early seventies.
I mean sheesh!
They still both hav zip.
They both still know how to zig and zag, even with Ron taking his turn at interpretive dance to the quirky beat, leveling the Copernicus crowd with shouts of encouragement and excited-ness.
None of this ever gets old with the Mael brothers. May they continue with their swanky cabaret / chamber / unclassifiable upper echelon kind of pop, or whatever you want to call it.
More Sparks please.
Not less Sparks going forward.
Bobby Talamine - JBTV Music Television Chicago
Writing and Photography by Bobby Talamine
Edited by Fiza Javid
United Center - 3/10/22
The build up at the beginning of the week, four days away from covering the band Tool on Thursday at the United Center was boiling to a fever pitch, up and moments away from showtime. This is truly a band that you get amped for- caffeine not needed to entice clarity and adrenaline.
Their music speaks on its own, and all four band members- Maynard James Keenan, Adam Jones, Danny Carey and Justin Chancellor, have built up over the years their own set of principles to live by while performing, let alone releasing albums.
The standards set forth for performing- all you have to do is look at them.
As for Danny- it's basketball jerseys, reflecting the town he's playing in. Obviously for Chicago's show, he's dressed in a Bulls uniform- top and shorts.
As for Adam- Sometimes it's a well worn flannel long sleeve shirt and dark pants- for Chicago, it looks like something short sleeve shirt wise that an auto mechanic might wear, with aviator shades and lots of facial hair- also looking like he could be a hungover helicopter pilot recovering from flying mercenary missions in Southeast Asia circa 1972.
As for Justin Chancellor- More like a tenured professor- A striped and pressed long sleeve shirt, with an added vest and also clean and pressed dark pants, ready to teach advanced math or physics.
As for Maynard- I'm still trying to grapple with this- nor do I wish to investigate further his thoughts (If there are any)- I guess more than anything to sustain the mystery and complexity of his outfit / costume and demeanor of it all.
To promote this review on Facebook a couple days back, I laid out my thoughts on this subject, having now witnessed Maynard in this similar persona a few times now while performing.
It is striking, with some modicum of shock value, what with the three rows of mohawk, the striking and definitive black eye makeup, and the leather jacket with an alien logo front and center.
In my opinion, it allows for a level of detachment and out of body experiences similar to an actor portraying a renegade, or someone of unmoral character- to a point.
For the initiated, who live by the band Tool, you don't digress.
Maynard would probably tell you to your face to not read into things, stop thinking like a ten year old having panic attacks, it is what it is, and try to enjoy the show.
Which, at the end of the day, you do, and soak it in immensely, visually and of course musically.
Talk about precision, followed by might.
Everything about Tool performing live is an out of body experience, especially witnessing them perform live with my fellow seasoned photographers and friends.
Some quick thoughts on this:
The third song through their show, "The Pot", my friend Jake from CBS said out loud to me- "How do three guys make such incredible and punishing noise?"
All I did was nod in agreement.
The day after the show, my good friend Lauren O' Neil of 101WKQX simply stated on her post on Facebook- "Therapy".
Again- I totally get it. One word will sum it up.
And that's for the whole set, 12 songs in total, not much variation between cities and tour dates, which is understandable considering the complexity of the material.
Opening with "Fear Inoculum", and ending with "Invincible".
The album "Fear Inoculum" was well represented, six songs in total, not counting the instrumental opener "Litanie contre la peur".
So continuing down this path of Tool band protocols: Upon entering the doors to the United Center, and upon sitting down to prepare to watch the show, you're reminded to pocket your cellphone- no photography or video whatsoever, if caught, you'll be ejected from the venue, no exceptions.
And who's to argue? It's Tool's show- and their rules.
It's been this way for as long as I can remember with them, all of them taking pride in their presentation and sophistication, almost bordering on proprietary software legal issues.
But it is what it is- they really want you to experience their show on full sensory, lighting little synapse fires in your brain that allow for some measure of enlightenment, which as a band, they cover in spades.
Some of my fellow photographers complain incessantly about troubling low light photography, and their show not being lit accordingly to get decent shots of whatever.
Hard to respond with this, with any answer- my only thoughts on this without bogging down into a lose / lose war is this-
Tool ain't Elton John.
Tool aint't Katy Perry or Dua Lipa.
Tool is immersed in art, and sophisticated backdrop visuals and production.
Adapt or die when covering them live.
That's my answer to that- it's again, their show, their creation through and through.
As for Danny's new drumhead design, based on "The Goetic Tee", which is equally cool in covering for this review- Both drumheads features diagrams consisting of a magic circle encompassed with triangles of Solomon, as shown in Aleister Crowley's translation of an ancient grimoire.
The design is based on "Spirit Traps"- for the legendary king to attract and capture Djinn.
So what you're viewing firsthand is spiritual magic and ceremonial magic, elevating in mental / neural circuitry, enticing you to develop and learn and master particular skills, such as drumming perhaps.
And we all know that Danny is way beyond the skills of a basic drummer, thinking and rethinking some more complexity within complexity.
All you have to do is watch Danny leave the stage from intermission before the encore- he's not rushed vacating his drumkit, he's slow and methodical getting to the stage stairs to towel off and take a breather, looking exhausted and spent from head to toe.
Drumming for Tool is not for the faint hearted, knowing full well to again enjoy the moment- drumming with such intensity like this into your seventies is probably 50 /50 if I was a betting man.
So you see?
We can go way beyond the scope of covering a show with this, viewing Tool from multiple angles far beyond just yapping about the setlist, and official Tool tour merch.
But speaking of a couple nuggets from the show- hearing "Undertow" played live was chillingly awesome, visuals included.
The song, dating back to 1993 when Tool were just starting out, is such a beast, like most early Tool a punishing ride of grit and glory, elevating their embrace of discovering complexity, like their heroes in Robert Fripp and all things King Crimson.
And also "Hooker With a Penis", from "Aenima", back in 1996, to close out their main set before intermission.
Talk about ending the show before the encore with full boat innovation and on steroids ambitions- Adam, Danny, Justin and Maynard locked in with shock therapy glory on all counts.
Like the band itself, you leave the United Center out into the cold and snowy evening spent and exhausted, leaving your coat off while walking to your car, kinda like walking out of a sauna and taking a deep dive into twenty degree weather, trying to get to grips on what you just witnessed firsthand, as if seeing Tool for the first time in your life, even though it's more like show 40 for me.
Can't say that about many bands on that kind of level of fanbase and rabid revelry.
These guys leave you wanting more Tool, not less Tool.
Until next time Adam, Danny, Justin, and Maynard- Thank you for a splendid evening of audio and visual pummeling bliss.
Bobby Talamine - JBTV Music Television Chicago