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