A NIGHT AT THE OPERA
Live Debut of Hello Young Lovers– Glasgow February 12, 2006
By Madeline Bocaro ©
Once again, as with Lil’ Beethoven, Sparks performed their new album in its’ entirety, because there is not one inferior song to be left out!
This ain’t no fooling around! This is ‘Dick Around’ – the dazzling opener of Sparks’ astounding stage presentation. Our protagonist recites a monologue about how he’d ‘won the rat race’ and how his busy life completely changed with just one phone call. Words in comic strip bubbles help illustrate his point. Melancholy cinematic interludes suggest a suspenseful crime drama. Screeching Psycho shower scene strings, give way to heavy rock explosions, evocative of McCartney’s ‘Live And Let Die’, accented by jazzy narratives. The quick and frenzied string arrangements rival those in ‘Flight Of The Bumble Bee’! But mostly, this song rocks the house!! It’s much ado about doing nothing!
The band is behind a translucent black mesh curtain, while Ron and Russell, both clad completely in black, act out Hello Young Lovers. Imaginative big screen projections (created by Shaw Petrino) perfectly illustrate each song.
Benny Goodman convenes with the Buzzcocks in the sinister swinging, syncopated, percolating ‘Perfume’ with its’ driving ‘Radar Love’ groove. As Russell names names, the perfiumes and universally recognized female symbols drop off the assembly line.
‘The Very Next Fight’ especially when performed live, is in SPARKSURROUND – making you feel like you are actually IN a movie. Your own life is completely forgotten, and you are now lamenting your hopeless on-screen relationship. Enraged by jealousy, you are impassioned even more when the guitars kick in. Ron has a fierce altercation with his on-screen alter ego. He both wins, and loses!
On ‘(Baby, Baby) Can I Invade Your Country’ Buster Poindexter’s ‘Hot Hot Hot’ collides with the Clash’s Sandinista! album in this festive political party! On screen, an animated battalion with thousands of uniformed Rons and Russells comprises a vast army of two. The heavy-handed, sword wielding Mael militia marches in triumph of its’ own will. I’ll bet Francis Scott Key never dreamed that he would posthumously join forces with his compatriots, the Maels in the public domain! Guitars abound; acoustic AND electric, punctuated by brass and yankee doodle drumming. We all get caught up in the party atmosphere of this ironically provocative piece. The heroic performance was worthy of the extended ovation it received – barring a 21 gun salute!
Punctuating the poignant symphonic sadness of the slow, swelling emotive score of ‘Rock Rock Rock’, Ron perfects the power chord on his borrowed Les Paul. Huge thumping on-screen retro amplifiers pause for an echoing, robotic vocal stutter, then burst into flames!
On ‘Metaphor’ Russell’s spoken poetic phrasing gives birth to Hip-Hop Haiku. The song transitions into what could be a traditional Celtic beer drinking folk song, with tipsy townsmen thinking up even more metaphors for ‘metaphor’ to use as pick-up lines down at the pub. Chicks dig ‘em! Everyone present enjoyed the sing-along!
‘Waterproof’, is rife with sweeping surrealistic clouds and precipitation. Jazzy interludes give way to Broadway rhythms. For the grand power-pop finish, Flying V guitars and umbrellas come raining down in torrents. Ron and Russell remain completely dry while deliberately (mis)quoting Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
On the seductively strange boogie-woogie of ‘Here Kitty’ an imposing, yet cute feline foursome mimes along to the hybrid of doo-wop / scat-singing – two long forgotten genres meeting for the first time in history – where else but on a Sparks song?! We’re not sure whether to Jitterbug or do the Charleston, so we stand perfectly still in utter amazement. The kitty chorus of ‘MEOW!” enlists more ‘cat calls’ and cheers from the crowd. Doo doo dah, doo doo doo dah!!
All of the new songs are almost – I repeat, ALMOST romantic (in a twisted Sparksian way). It’s certainly the most emotional work they’ve ever produced, stirring up feelings that we never knew we had!
Next is, ‘There’s No Such Thing As Aliens’. Little green men might really be up there laughing at us, but as of now, Sparks have convinced us that they don’t exist. Here, Ron resembles a stressed Strauss, but he masters the fine art of the mad waltz. After the melodious ‘Carol Of The Bells’ intro, Russell’s vocals multiply and harmonize, building and swelling in a stellar climax until the thunderous crescendo, which is matched by deafening applause. Surely, even Martians would be impressed – if they existed!
During “As I Sit Down To Play The Organ At Notre Dame Cathedral” the venue is sonically transformed into Quasi Moto’s former dwelling. We all have a ‘hunch’ that the album’s grand finale will be spectacular, and it most certainly is!! Our spirits are immediately uplifted by the sheer rapture of this piece. The chiming, clanging pendulous sounds (reminiscent of the mangled cuckoo clock sounds on ‘Roger’) urgently warn our protagonist that it’s time to leave for the ‘office’. He runs off as quickly as the Mad Hatter. The grandeur of the organ, the seemingly infinite heavenly choir, and the fervent vocal / instrumental frenzy collectively raise the roof of this strange congregation! Ron works the stuttering keyboard like a rabid Rachmaninoff. He summons an unbelievable multitude of orchestral sounds which visually flourish on-screen in the pipes of the life-like cartoon organ that he is so skillfully playing. A job well done, about a job well done!
Russell announced that they’d be back in a few minutes ‘to perform our other nineteen albums’ And they almost did! Without ruining the shock and surprise of which gems they polished up, let’s say they made full use of the complete, fantastic rock band they now have; Tammy Glover, Dean Menta, Steve McDonald and Josh Klinghoffer, and put those guitars and drums to work!
Spread the love…and hey, Ron Mael – please promise us that you’ll leave your brain to science!
– Madeline Bocaro