After my pretty obsessive coverage of their 21-night-stand in London covering their entire career I didn’t want to go too much into the run-up for Sparks’s Valentine’s Day show at UCLA, with full performances of two albums, but suffice to say I was pretty well excited. Having caught the band six times over the previous decade — living in LA has its advantages, as they’ve always played at least one hometown show if not more for each new album — I knew they still had it while even the sometimes choppy webcasts from the London indicated their new full rock band lineup was firing on all fours.
Still, this was definitely a cut above, and probably the most exciting LA show they’ve done since the first time I’d seen them in 1998 at the Key Club. The place was packed with plenty of familiar faces from the mael-list and more besides — Rob and Jean, who stayed with me over the weekend, were just two of the people who had flown in for the show specifically — and Royce Hall, which I hadn’t been in for almost two decades since I attended UCLA, made for a truly theatrical settting for this most theatrical of bands.
Thanks to a very lucky break courtesy of a mael-list member — thanks again, S! — I was able to watch the show from third row center; I’ve been up front for as many shows they’ve done as I can manage over the years so this got added to that happy total, and being able to take in what is essentially a wide-screen performance from that distance is almost overwhelming. But it also helps with the detail, such as seeing Ron’s quizzical looks as his clones surrounded him during “(She Got Me) Pregnant” or his looks of head-shaking ‘You fell for it!’ hilarity on the chorus of “I Can’t Believe You Fell For All the Crap In This Song,” two of the highlights from their run-through of the latest album, Exotic Creatures of the Deep.
The Maels’ dedication to focusing on the present has paid greater dividends over the years, I think — when you consider that they’re a couple of years away from four full decades of formally released work, it would be so easy and so simple to coast. Certainly part of the hook of the show was the full performance of Kimono My House and stellar it was, the band’s full-bodied slam-through of that hysterical-in-all-senses classic one of the best rock shows I’ve seen. But my friend ML noted after the show that much as he loved that, he loved the Exotic Creatures run-through even more, and I’d have to agree — like their past few albums, what sounds enjoyable and lovely in studio form takes on greater depths live, bringing out an indefinable something that goes beyond simply the ability to reproduce it live or their various films and projections and set-pieces. That they kept the concluding film from the London performance was only appropriate — as the rest of the band sang the wordless falsetto section the ends “Likeable,” Ron ‘set fire’ to each of the band’s past album covers, acknowledging them and then moving beyond them to get to the present. Whatever their next album is will set fire to Exotic Creatures in turn — and that’s as it should be.
The career-sampling encore was an equal treat — personally I was thrilled to finally hear a full version of “The Number One Song in Heaven” live, as well as a welcome return to “When Do I Get to Sing ‘My Way’?,” while “Dick Around”‘s majestic performance and the now-traditional show-closer of “Suburban Homeboy” also stand out — and it was the capper to a perfect evening. All that and the threatened rainstorm held off until today so we didn’t have to worry about traffic snarls — I call that a fine Valentine’s.