Gig review: Sparks at O2 Academy Leeds

Sparks epitomise the tradition of the straight guy and funny guy in music duos.

Sparks at O2 Academy Leeds. Picture: Anthony Longstaff
Sparks at O2 Academy Leeds. Picture: Anthony Longstaff

There’s songwriter Ron Mael with his pencil moustache, slicked back hair, and trousers hoisted to his arm-pits glowering malevolently over the top of his keyboard. And then there’s his younger brother Russell, who at a sprightly 69 is a maelstrom of energy dressed in a military pink blazer that Franz Ferdinand could have borrowed during their 2015 collaboration FFS.

Such personas have been entrenched since the LA outfit formed in 1971 and have survived over the course of 25 albums, the latest of which has catapulted them into the top ten for the first time since breakthrough release Kimono My House. This has resulted in a career revival that sees them greeted as returning heroes in Leeds after an absence of nearly four decades.

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All of which makes for unexpected comedy gold when the roles are reversed during Giorgio Moroder co-write ‘The Number One Song In Heaven’. Ron stands in front of his keyboard, slowly removes his pink tie and throws it into the crowd, before pitching himself across the stage like Fred Astaire with ruptured tendons.

Russell Mael of Sparks at O2 Academy Leeds. Picture: Anthony Longstaff

Yet wrong-footing the audience has always been part of their appeal. Backed by a five-piece band that’s dressed identically to Russell, although lacking his shares in Schwarzkopf’s black hair dye, they’ve regularly reinvented their sound. The 90-minute set cherry picks through the best of these changes and takes in art-rock, disco, and synth-pop (‘When Do I Get To Sing ‘My Way’?’ is ripe for the Pet Shop Boys to cover).

The pace is unrelenting throughout, only dropping for the piano interlude ‘Probably Nothing’. Dealing with dementia, it gives Russell a brief respite from his athletic stage pacing and his falsetto, which the years have remarkably left unscathed. One of many unlikely subject matters to be covered on current release Hippopotamus, electro-pop set opener ‘What The Hell Is It This Time?’ is rather brilliantly about a short-tempered god.

It would take a spectacularly cloth-eared maker not to be cheered by rock-opera ‘This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both Of Us’ and encore ‘Amateur Hour’, both of which sound as uniquely inventive now as they did when first released.

Ron Mael of Sparks at O2 Academy Leeds. Picture: Anthony Longstaff