Home Live Review Live Review: Sparks @ Lincoln Theater — 6/30/23

Live Review: Sparks @ Lincoln Theater — 6/30/23

Live Review: Sparks @ Lincoln Theater — 6/30/23
Ron Mael smiles slyly to the audience at the Lincoln Theatre in DC on June 30, 2023. (Photo by Mickey McCarter)

In 2021, director Edgar Wright created an extraordinary documentary — The Sparks Brothers — thoroughly recapping the musical career of Ron and Russell Mael. The two men (now in their mid-’70s) have been active as avant-garde crafters of pop earworms for 50 years, and they have been as influential as David Bowie and Roxy Music to generations of musicians in England, where they first broke through despite being very much Los Angelinos.

Due in part to that documentary opening Sparks to new frontiers, the Maels enjoyed a breakthrough year in 2022, when they packed the Lincoln Theater in DC (and other venues globally) for a career retrospective tour. Sparks are back again with a new album, The Girl Is Crying in Her Latte, and the brothers recently returned to Lincoln Theatre for a wonderful performance.

At the Lincoln Theatre, “The Girl Is Crying in Her Latte,” performed early in the show also employed a songwriting device that brought Sparks back for the 21 Century in Lil’ Beethoven — repetition. The same stylized repetition that Sparks’ worked into Lil’ Beethoven’s “My Baby’s Taking Me Home” (which appeared in the encore!) — at turns hopeful and terrifying — empowered “The Girl Is Crying in Her Latte.”

After all of that build-up, you of course must watch the video for the new title track.

Watch the official music video for “The Girl Is Crying in Her Latte” by Sparks on YouTube:

Sparks arrived in DC in top form. They dressed in their signature frocks — vocalist Russell Mael in a pop art red and keyboardist Ron Mael in a dark jacket and tie. They too carried their signature attitudes — Russell fizzy and gregarious; Ron stern and glowering (although frequently with a sly happy smile). To the absolute delight of Sparks fans that filled the theatre, they looked and sounded incredible. Russell was a surprising dynamo, galloping across the stage and singing in bright, clear tones. Ron was just as enlightening with impressive turns at his synthesizer — which was relabeled with his name “Ronald” in the style of giant instrument manufacturer Roland.

The brothers delivered the show as a sort of conversation, beginning with the jaunty “So May We Start” from their award-winning film “Annette” (2021, another contribution to that banner year). They ended the set with “Gee, That Was Fun” from The Girl Is Crying in Her Latte. The song was an ode to wishing you were more in the moment after realizing the moment was gone but also nominally a fairly upbeat way of saying thanks for being there.

As they wound down their set, Sparks played a few of the tunes that they knew everyone wanted to hear including “The Number One Song in Heaven” (1979), the Giorgio Moroder-produced single that had a profound impact on British musicians such as Joy Division and Duran Duran, and “This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both of Us” (1974), the song that first put Sparks on the map when they performed it on Top of the Pops upon its release.

Along the way, Sparks roused the audience with selections from across the decades, sprinkling the new album tracks throughout the setlist. They performed “Nothing Is as Good as They Say It Is,” a typically humorous and yet thoughtful tune from the perspective of a baby, less than a day old, already longing to go back from whence he came. Near the midpoint of the show, Sparks played The Girl Is Crying in Her Latte’s “Escalator,” a number that recalled their best work of the ’80s — unapologetic synthpop that employs a clever analogy to paint a story of longing and loneliness.

Watch the official music video for “Escalator” by Sparks on YouTube:

Ron and Russell Mael alone imparted their curious and welcome mix of gravitas and levity but they were backed by a talented quartet who helped the songs to shine. Hats off to drummer Steven Nistor, guitarist Evan Weiss, guitarist Eli Pearl, and bassist Max Whipple for their impressive talents and for sounding really damn good.

While all six men won applause for a thoroughly entertaining show, Ron deserves an extra round of applause for two scene-stealing moments that alone were worth the price of admission. First, Ron delivered rare lead vocal, via spoken word, on the deadpan arthouse number “Shopping Mall of Love” (1986), and second he danced the unforgettable “Cool Places” signature dance in the end of “The Number One Song in Heaven” — so great!

Sparks wrap their USA tour at home with a concert at the Hollywood Bowl in a week, but the prolific duo surely return soon. With 25 studio albums (or more, depending on how you measure these things) in the past 51 years, the prolific musicians once again have new life and new purpose with their refreshed “popularity.” (And they like us and we like them a lot!)

Keep tabs on Sparks on their official website.

Here are some photos of Sparks performing at the Lincoln Theatre in DC on June 30, 2023. All pictures by Mickey McCarter.



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