Sparks are a band I’ve long since wanted to see live but never actually got around to getting a ticket for. So, when the legendary (and I mean that in every sense of the word) band added a date to their ongoing tour itinerary in promotion of their new album ‘The Girl Is Crying In Her Latte’ at the recently reopened Wolverhampton Civic, it was a total no-brainer for yours truly. A chance to see one of the all-time greats of avant-garde rock music in one of the very best live music venues the UK has to offer.
We just have to get there first, the traffic is horrendous tonight, just trying to get out of our home town of Newport takes nearly thirty minutes (it normally takes us five) so unfortunately we arrive at The Halls a little too late to see most of tonight’s support act Mr.B The Gentleman Rhymer (who is actually Jim Burke from Collapsed Lung) playing his very own genre of hip hop called chap hop. His set (or what I get to see of it) largely involves him rapping in pronounced English tones whilst playing a banjolele over backing tracks and the audience here appear to love it, especially when he drops in a cover of ‘Big Boy’ by tonight’s headliners. In his online biog Burke proclaims his creation to be akin to “Noel Coward and Afrika Bambaataa enjoying a sweet sherry together.” Me, I close my eyes and can’t get the image of a Cassetteboy mash up of Jacob Rees-Mogg out of my head. This immediately sends shudders right down my already hunched up sciatica riddled spine, that’s beacuse tonight’s gig is also one of those dreaded things called, an all-seated show! Arrrrrgh!
Yup, Sparks appear to prefer to play these kinds of shows here in the UK, so its makeshift seating for my first gig back in The Halls since it reopened just a few weeks back and I can’t help by feel just a little bit jealous of the Amon Amarth fans who got to air row their way through their favourite band’s set in the venue just a week or so earlier. To be honest, seating does actually work well for Sparks, simply because their live show is, just like their back catalogue, all over the place. There is a point tonight where the Mael brothers jump from the electronic pop of the title track of their new album to the unconventional deep cut art rock of ‘Beaver O’Lindy’ by way of the almost new wave throb of ‘Angst In My Pants’ and the poor girl sat a few rows in front of me is doing a Clodagh Rodgers, up and down like a jack in the box, not quite knowing whether to dance or just sit and watch the art (because there is no other word to describe it) of Sparks unfold before our eyes.
As it turns out tonight is also the final date of Sparks’ run of European theatre size shows before they play Glastonbury over the weekend, and me being me, I’d perhaps half expected them to mix the set up a bit ready for a greatest hits overload to please the Glasters masses, but no this is Sparks and they do things their way, so if you want ‘Beat The Clock’, ‘Tryouts For The Human Race’ or perhaps ‘Get In The Swing’ look away now, because what we do get is a most pleasurable trip through six tracks from thew new album (my pick being the uproarious ’Nothing Is As Good As They Say It Is’) along with the likes of ‘Balls’, ‘Bon Voyage’ and ‘Shopping Mall Of Love’ with the title track for the album from which the latter track is taken also providing the cue for the people of Wolverhampton to finally realise they really can dance too, and with everyone finally up on their feet for a fantastic ‘When Do I Get to Sing My Way’ the last piece of the Sparks jigsaw puzzle drops perfectly into place.
Of course, they have to play ‘This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both of Us’ and its here that I’m suddenly thinking of when I saw Sy Keeler’s post-Onslaught band Mirror Mirror thrashing their way through the classic in a tiny nightclub in Newport back in the early ‘90s, and then it hits my how much Sparks not only blend genres but actually help create them, as that really could be current arena metal giants Ghost up there as the chords come crashing out of The Halls splendid all singing all dancing new PA system.
Having almost turned back at one point during tonight’s seemingly endless journey trying to get to the gig, I’m so glad we didn’t, as just like tonight’s headliners, great things do come to those who tough it out, and no that isn’t just a way for me to get an FM song title into my review.
A truly magnificent night of music.