Friday, May 16th, 2008 ... 7:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m. ... KZSU, 90.1 FM

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The Sparks Mini-Spectacular

Quick summary:

  • Sparks 21x21 concerts live (up through June 11, 2008)
  • Drummer Steve Nister's tour diary

    My longstanding obsession with the band Sparks, first noted here, has gone to new depths. The band is about to put out a 21st album, Exotic Creatures of the Deep, and to celebrate, they are in the midst of playing the other 20 albums, live, in sequence, on 20 nonconsecutive nights.

    This is happening in London, a better epicenter for the Sparks fan base than anywhere in the U.S. The venue is the Carling Academy Islington, which is apparently a mid-sized rock club. Message board postings on the Sparks site put the capacity at around 800.

    It's amazing the band is able to pull this off. Many of their songs have never been performed live, and some weren't meant to be (a couple of disco albums in 1979 used technology that then wasn't portable). The song count comes to something like 270, including rarities and B-sides that are being used for encores. The brothers Ron and Russell Mael are handling keyboards and vocals -- they've been the core band for 35 years -- with two guitarists, a bassist, and a drummer.

    May 16 happened to be the first of these shows, and I found myself with three hours of time to fill on the radio due to a scheduling gap. It took an hour to decide I'd have the guts to do this -- and to retrieve the vinyl, pick songs (since I'm not familiar with much of the catalog) and set up my laptop to play a couple of newer tunes that KZSU doesn't have.

    With apologies to the Maels, I have to admit not everything Sparks did was a home run. The disco albums -- well, if disco's your thing, they're fine. The '80s guitar-pop period, which is when I got into the band, is a lot of fun but a tad embarrassing and silly; all my friends just loathed the band back then. But the latest album Hello Young Lovers got real airplay on our station, and while the '70s albums tap the glam/classic rock vein, they're quirky enough to not sound dully retro.

    I had a lot of fun. Whether listeners did, who knows.

    Here's the best part about the 21x21 concert series, as Sparks is calling it -- you can watch all 20 shows on the Net, using this link. It's not a hi-def, high-budget webcast. Just one camera and a lot of pauses and glitches. But considering it'd be hopeless for most of us in the U.S. to attend the shows, it's more than enough. And even the mediocre albums are coming across well in a live setting.

    At this writing (May 25), the band's up to 1979 and has eaten through their most popular and enduring albums. There have been two sellout crowds, but the audiences are going to be thinner for the remaining 12 or so shows. A bit of insider perspective is available on a tour diary being compiled by drummer Steve Nister.

    I hope they keep up the momentum and energy level. I wish these guys well, I really do.

    It ends June 11, and is followed by a performance of Exotic Creatures at a different venue June 13.

    I'll post the setlist soon. Rather than go chronologically, I tried to jump around as much as possible. Genre whiplash was my goal. I didn't manage to record the whole thing, so I don't know how well it worked.

    Horizontal lines denote microphone breaks.

    Sparks -- "This Town Ain't Big Enough for Both of Us" -- Kimono My House (Island, 1974)

    Sparks -- "Music that You Can Dance To" -- Music that You Can Dance To (Curb, 1986) Sparks -- "Occupation" -- Introducing Sparks (Columbia, 1977)

    Sparks -- "Perfume" -- Hello Young Lovers (In the Red, 2006)

    Sparks -- "Girl From Germany" -- A Woofer in Tweeter's Clothing (Bearsville, 1972)

    Sparks -- "When Do I Get To Sing My Way" (Vince Clarke Remix) -- When Do I Get To Sing My Way [CD single] (Logic, 1995) Sparks -- "I Predict" -- Angst in My Pants (Atlantic, 1982) Sparks -- "I Bought the Mississippi River" -- Big Beat (Columbia, 1976) Sparks -- "Beat the Clock" -- No. 1 in Heaven (Elektra, 1979) Sparks -- (Baby, Baby) Can I Invade Your Country -- Hello Young Lovers (In the Red, 2006) Sparks -- "Dick Around"-- Hello Young Lovers (In the Red, 2006) Sparks -- "Pineapple" -- Indiscreet (Island, 1975) Sparks -- Pretending to Be Drunk" -- Pulling Rabbits Out of a Hat (Atlantic, 1984) Sparks -- "Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth" -- Propaganda (Island, 1974) Sparks -- "My Baby's Taking Me Home" -- Li'l Beethoven (Palm Pictures, 2003) Sparks -- "I Married a Martian" -- Whomp that Sucker (RCA, 1981) Sparks -- Here Kitty" -- Hello Young Lovers (In the Red, 2006) Sparks -- "Balls" -- Balls (Li'l Beethoven, 2000) Sparks -- "Angst in My Pants"-- Angst in My Pants (Atlantic, 1982) ! William Parker Quartet -- "Hawaii" -- Sound Unity (AUM Fidelity, 2005)

    * = Item in KZSU rotation
    ! = Pop anomaly
    ? = Item not in KZSU library

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