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Sparks
B2 Club 
By Alex Meredith
In music, longevity is no measure of quality. Music fans have long memories and deep pockets and bands are too often guilty of trying to exploit their adoring public. Moscow‘s gig-goers seem to have become particularly popular targets. You can barely go a week without another minibus full of wrinkled has-beens turning up to peddle old rope in a “definitely our last tour (we promise)” special appearance.

In the last couple of months we’ve had Slade (twice), the Bee Gees (despite one member having snuffed it), the KLF (please), and this summer even the creativity-proof Rolling Stones will be hitting Russian shores. With this in mind I think I can be forgiven for presuming Sparks’ first appearance in Russia, 35 years after their first album, was scheduled simply to shake the charity collection box in a new precinct. I could not have been more wrong.

Split over two nights at B2, Sparks in Moscow was an unqualified triumph. Indeed the reception on Monday night was so overwhelming that it prompted front man Ron Mael to pledge to return in the summer. 35 years to get here, and now they want to come back in 3 months. I can only hope for those that missed out that they got a double-entry visa; this was one of those concerts you felt a warm sense of smugness at having attended.

In my opinion, the remarkable success of the gig owed as much to a smart choice of play-list as the quality of the material itself. Facing an audience expecting some of their older floor-fillers (listened to on vinyl whilst sneaking out of Communist classrooms according to one reveller) you would have expected a heavy back catalogue bias. Instead, the American brothers split the concert 50:50.

First came a full run through of the less familiar (twentieth) new album “Hello Young Lovers”. The disc is brand spanking new, released on 6 February and bearing all the hallmarks of Sparks’ experimental, innovative genius, it is as refreshing as a spring dip in Lake Baikal. The fans warmed to the new stuff immediately with several singing along despite the album having been overlooked by radio stations in Europe let alone Russia. For me, “Perfume”, “Dick Around” and “(Baby, Baby) Can I Invade Your Country” are some of the catchiest, cleverest tunes I have heard for ages and their omission from the mainstream is baffling.

Nevertheless, if the music wasn’t enough there was the colourful spectacle of straight-man Ron’s battles with his own video screen image or bursts on the air guitar to entertain. The band also used the screen to flash up their powerful lyrics and add a dose of slapstick to ease them through the album’s more difficult moments. There weren’t many.

In any case, anyone who did find the opening 90 minutes difficult to swallow had a whopping great bucketful of sugar to follow in the second half. The band cleared the stage and set about blasting the crowd into orbit with some of their most popular oldies. Beginning appropriately with “Aeroflot” and moving through “Happy Hunting Ground” and “Bon Voyage” to “Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth”. Then a familiar introductory tinkle from Ron’s keyboard heralded the gig’s deafening crescendo - “This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Both of Us”. Though he has probably done it more times than my Gran has had hot dinners, Russell delivered this 1974 hit with all the enthusiasm of a teenager doing his first gig.

Throughout this second half jamboree, Ron assumed his traditional waxwork pose at the keyboard whilst younger brother Russell jumped around like a jack-in-the-box. In both looks and mannerisms, they make an intriguing double act; like Alan Greenspan teaming up with Austin Powers. Backed up by a group that includes former Faith no More guitarist Dean Menta and Redd Kross bassist Steve McDonald the band’s music may defy categorisation but the sound is of unquestionable quality.

For thirty years Sparks have been the midfield workmen behind strikers like Queen, the Pet Shop Boys and Depeche Mode. Their new material is now setting the agenda for a whole new generation of rockers; Goldfrapp being one example. At the same time they put on one hell of a show, making them a must-see act regardless of their bulging back catalogue. If bands, like sportsmen, are only as good as their last performance, Sparks are at the top of their game. If you were remiss enough to miss out this time, make sure you catch them if immigration lets them back for a second go in the summer.

28.02.06
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