The veteran stars show the likes of Franz Ferdinand how to do this art rock thing...

SPARKS won new admirers and delighted diehards at last night’s (June 12) “conceptual show” at MORRISSEY’s MELTDOWN FESTIVAL.

It was easy to see why Mozzer’s such a fan; the band’s T-shirts read, “Let’s Art Rock”. Franz Ferdinand also owe an enormous debt to the well-travelled Californians’ sly lyrics and fiddly rhythms.

“We’re extremely happy to do a conceptual show like this one”, said Russel and Ron Mael during their performance at London’s Royal Festival Hall. “Thanks, Morrissey, for this one-time only performance occasion.” The show was divided into two disparate halves: “So you can compare and contrast”, chuckled the sprightly singer Russell, a 51-year-old energetic imp. The first half featured the classic 1974 album Kimono My House in its thrilling entirety (complete with bonus tracks: the singles’ B-sides). The second half was a stunning showcase of their latest and 19th album ‘Lil’ Beethoven’.

A wildly diverse audience roared its approval of punkish full-band versions of such eccentric greats as ‘This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both Of Us’ and ‘Amateur Hour’. While those breakthrough hits are immortal, it’s been a while since Sparks obsessives have witnessed bizarre mini-glam-operas like ‘Complaints’ or ‘Thank God It’s Not Christmas’. Joined by guitarists who’ve played with Faith No More, Daniel Lanois and Henry Rollins, and a Red Kross bassist, the Maels and geisha/percussionist Tammy Glover relished racing through these staccato, startling pop pearls on their 30th anniversary. When Russ threw his castanets into the crowd, there was a stampede to claim them.

For the second half a new cabaret-style set emerged. Russell changed from black-clad rocker to white-clad crooner. Lil’ Beethoven’, repetitive on record, proved to be a sensational, unique live event, with deadpan Ron donning comedy arm extensions, chasing films and slides across the room on ‘I Married Myself’, swanning across the stage with a Marilyn lookalike for ‘Ugly Guys With Beautiful Girls’. The ambition, grandeur and wit made the Pet Shops look paltry: and it was all achieved with brains, not budget. A standing ovation greeted the finale of an epic night. “Bravo!” was spelt out onscreen; no-one argued. For fans old and new, the spectacular Sparks flew.