Review: Sparks @ The Fortitude Music Hall (Brisbane)

Sparks played The Fortitude Music Hall (Brisbane) on 2 November, 2023.
Tim is a Brisbane-based writer who loves noisy music, gorgeous pop, weird films, and ice cream.

"So, Brisbane. . . May we start?" asked Russell Mael. It's a question Brisbane fans of American duo Sparks have waited decades to be asked.

Since forming Sparks in 1966, brothers Ron and Russell Mael have only toured Australia once, performing in Melbourne and Sydney all the way back in 2001.

Always a cult band, the Sparks cult has only grown in the intervening years, thanks to a steady drip of high-quality albums, Edgar Wright's documentary 'The Sparks Brothers', and their bizarre film musical 'Annette'.

After 22 years (or over 60, depending on how you count), Brisbane fans finally got their chance to see the band, filling The Fortitude Music Hall (2 November) to the brim with excitement.

Even opener Davey Lane (You Am I, The Pictures) couldn't contain his excitement, gushing about the band, their mutual connection in Todd Rundgren, and cheekily busting out a guitar lick from Sparks' 'This Town Ain't Big Enough For Both Of Us'.

"The exits are clearly marked, thought you should know," Russell bellowed on set opener 'So May We Start', but nobody considered leaving and missing a moment of Sparks.

The band are touring behind their 25th album, 'The Girl Is Crying In Her Latte', and songs from said album slotted in perfectly with the classics. The title track had many dancing like Cate Blanchett in the song's video, including staff working behind the bar who just couldn't contain themselves.

At 75 years old, Russell defied his age, showing he was still in fine form. His voice is well-maintained, easily performing the climbing falsettos of 'The Number One Song In Heaven' and 'When I'm With You'. His energy was high on 'Music That You Can Dance To', running around the stage, leaping in the air, and spanking himself, refusing to act his age.

Over the years, Ron has become famous for his low-energy stage presence (one that led to an impersonation by Paul McCartney in his 'Coming Up' video). Sitting still at his keyboard, Ron's leer was as icy as the synths in 'When I'm With You'.

Much to everyone's surprise, Ron took centre stage to robotically recite the lyrics to one of his rare vocal turns, 'Shopping Mall Of Love', laughter breaking out each time he hesitantly deadpanned a "yeah".

With a discography of over 300 songs, Sparks covered a lot of ground in their set list. The band jumped across time, from the new wave classic 'Angst In My Pants' to an encore performance of 'My Baby's Taking Me Home'. There was even room for the high-energy electronic rock of 'Balls'.

Fans likely weren't expecting anything pre-dating their third album, 'Kimono My House', but they were treated to a surprise performance of 'Beaver O'Lindy' from 'the dark ages' of their second album.

Of course, with a discography as massive as Sparks, there will be a lot left out (I would've loved to hear 'Dick Around' in all its operatic glory). However, any disappointment about favourite songs evaporated by the explosive excitement of their three biggest songs: 'When Do I Get To Sing 'My Way'', 'The Number One Song In Heaven' (featuring Ron's obligatory dance break), and 'This Town Ain't Big Enough For Both Of Us'.

The latter featured a powerful performance from Sparks' backing band, especially the heavy hits from drummer Steven Nistor that seemed to launch fans off the ground.

Before a group photo with the audience, Russell threw a flower into the crowd. "Whoever catches that becomes the next Mrs Russell Mael, so be careful," Ron deadpanned.

It may have been a joke, but fans would certainly be tempted by the offer, especially if it keeps Sparks in Australia. Fans will have to make-do with a promise to return soon, and the hope that this was only the start of a love affair between Sparks and Brisbane.

Read our recent interview with Sparks.

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