I dreamed I saw Ron Mael last night, alive as you and me (Russell also, but that doesn't scan properly). Wait a second--that was no dream! It meant a six hour round trip, but I felt it was incumbent on me to actually see Sparks, and given their somewhat erratic touring history, especially in the states, I was not going to be picky.
First, it must be noted: this was supposed to be an eight o'clock show, and it started at nine. This certainly isn't the first time I've been to a show that took forever to get going, but never this egregiously in such an allegedly high-class venue. Whoever was responsible here, it was very unprofessional. At the very least, someone from the theater should've come on stage at some point to provide an explanation/revised start time. Just saying. Wednesday night. People have places to be. C'mon.
Still, when it started, it started. Ron comes on stage first in his standard business attire, sits down at the keyboard (with "RONALD" helpfully stenciled on it), and plays a medley of brief motifs from various Sparks songs. Finally, Russell dashes out on stage, looking pixie-ish in a sports jacket, trousers that cut off just below the knee (there must be a word for that, but fashion-plate I am not), and striped socks pulled all the way up. He immediately begins belting out "The Rhythm Thief," dashing around and gesticulating dramatically all the while, and in spite of the long-ass wait, it's impossible not to grin widely. You might not think that a song from Li'l Beethoven would work in a non-orchestral setting, but the revised context was quite good. Onward from there through an array of songs both expected ("This Town," "Mother Earth") and less so ("The Marriage of Russell Mael and Jacqueline Kennedy?" Really?). Russell had consistently the kind of energy you'd hope for, and it was a lot of fun, for the most part--though an extremely desultory-sounding "Dick Around," hugely truncated, was a disappointment (seriously, if you don't want to play it, don't; it's not like there aren't plenty of other great songs that could take its place--but if you're gonna, don't half-ass it). They ended, predictably, with "Two Hands, One Mouth," a new song for the tour built around a smutty double entendre--it's pretty great, and it really makes me look forward to a new studio album.
So I had fun; there's no question of that. But here's the thing: at less than an hour and a half, this was a pretty damned meager show. I cannot help but compare it to the Leonard Cohen concert I saw this past December, which went a full three and a quarter hours. Now, that's above and beyond the call of duty, of course, but especially when you consider the massive swaths of great material that Ron'n'Russell could've played…you can't help but be a bit disappointed.
You may wonder why I haven't written about the live album Two Hands One Mouth yet. Well, I haven't heard it yet, but I will when I do. That brings me to another complaint, however: the track listing of that album is almost identical to the set list of last night's show. The only differences (apart from a few songs being in a different order) is that the album includes "Good Morning" and "Hospitality on Parade," whereas the show featured "Angst in My Pants." Apart from that, the same. I mean really now. How 'bout changing it up a little, eh? We can already buy the album; we don't need to just hear it reiterated! And given that thing they did last year where they played through their entire discography over the course of twenty-some nights, they certainly can't have just sort of forgotten what they've got. I'm not gonna lie: it feels a little lazy.
Would I go to see them again? Yes. Would I do it if it meant driving another six hours? Not without some indication that the show was going to be a bit more substantial than this. I don't want to create the impression that I didn't enjoy it, because I did, but I feel like they could very easily have put on a show that I enjoyed a lot more.