Review and Photos by Rae Mystic
SO MAY WE START: Hours before they hit the stage, thousands of fans shuttled into The Hollywood Bowl for a hometown concert of art-pop duo Sparks. Due in no small part to Sparks’ reputation as cult heroes within the rock genre, this crowd was unique and noticeably varied. As concertgoers enjoyed food and wine picnic style, it was palpable how special this concert was going to be before the music even started.
Sparks has long been described as ‘your favorite band's favorite band.’ Despite the vibrant group’s massive influence on multiple generations of commercially successful artists, Sparks is often overlooked by critics and listeners alike. Leaning on their historic lack of conventional ‘success,’ the group has reinvented themselves over and over again. As a result, die-hard fans tout them as always being ahead of their time. The tide has begun to turn in recent years, following Edgar Wright’s 2021 documentary, The Sparks Brothers. In the film, Wright digs deep into the band’s history and wide-ranging influence. His ability to peel back the veil and show the world just how special these two musicians are has netted the band countless new fans.
Supporting act They Might Be Giants may not be a household name, but anyone who was within 100 feet of a television in the early 2000s has heard their song, "Boss Of Me," thanks to its appearance as the theme song for Malcolm in the Middle. The band ordinarily plays smaller venues, clubs, and small theaters, but they effortlessly rocked The Bowl with their genre-less, ineffable sounds. Featuring multi-part vocal harmonies, guest horn performers, and charming banter, the band thrilled and captivated the crowd. At one point, the horn players walked out into the crowd to give the box seats and nosebleeds a more intimate experience, and the whole place roared with excitement.
In the moment all had been waiting for, Russel Mael, the younger of the two Sparks brothers, took to the microphone to utter the words, "So may we start." Fans of the band will recognize this as both a declaration and a title, as the band jumped right into their song of the same name. Ron Mael, the elder brother, had spotlights on him from the beginning. Russel may hold the coveted title of lead singer, but seasoned fans know just how important Ron is to their music. Russel Mael’s big energy shined in perfect contrast with Ron Mael’s iconic indifferent demeanor.
The two brothers were accompanied by a full band, raising their live performance to new, mind-blowing heights. Russel Mael’s voice sounded as hypnotizing and dynamic as it had when it was recorded back in the 1970s. From his energy to his facial expressions, you could feel how ecstatic he was to be there. The production played a big role in the performance as well, as the lighting perfectly danced with the music.
Quite a few songs in the set were from their most recent album, 2023’s The Girl Is Crying In Her Latte. Before starting the upbeat dance tune, "Nothing Is As Good As They Say It Is," Russel Mael explained that the lyrics are written from the perspective of a young boy, only a few hours old, deciding that life isn't that great and he is over it. Their newer songs undoubtedly stood up to their older music, as the entire audience cheered with joy at every break.
Throughout the night, there were many moments that ignited the room. The crowd went particularly crazy when Ron, amid his aforementioned indifference, unexpectedly jumped up and danced. But the biggest reaction came when Sparks played their 1974 operatic rock anthem, "This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us." In a delightful moment of production pizzazz, both brothers were spotlit in isolation until, suddenly, the band kicked in and the stage exploded in a frenzy of thunder and lightning. As the night came to a close, Sparks ended the show with an encore of "All That." Russel explained, after thanking everyone in attendance, that "the song encompasses our experience here."
One great aspect of a two-act lineup is that it allows time for both artists to shine. Rather than several openers playing rushed sets followed by a one-hour headline set, this particular evening They Might Be Giants played for 46 minutes and Sparks clocked in at 88 minutes. Based on the energy on the shuttles back to parking, it was clear that both long-time and new Sparks fans left the show fulfilled and enthralled. This was certainly a night that few attendees will soon forget.
They Might Be Giants