Sparks @ Variety Playhouse 10-23-13 [part 1]


Take that Robert Fripp! Not even sketching!

I finally heard Sparks after a few years of reading about them when I bought the “Blits” New Wave sampler on RCA back in 1981. The song “Tips For Teens” was the moment of truth. I was impressed… and always intended to buy the matching “Whomp That Sucker” album, but alas, even today I’ve not yet heard it. I have always threatened to dive down the Sparks rabbit hole ever since. At a certain  point, I bought their then current album, “Interior Design” and managed to work my way forwards and backwards to the point where I own every album from “Music That You Can Dance To” onward, with copies of “Kimono My House” and “No. 1 In Heaven” [barely] covering their fertile ’69 through ’83 period. It was upon hearing their brilliant 1997 self-tribute album, “Plagiarism,” that I belatedly realized that the Brothers Mael, were in fact genii of a rare stripe, and then vowed to buy each new album [usually at full retail so you know I’m serious!] going forward.

From that point on seeing the band live became a must, but the band taunted me ceaselessly with countless European/UK tours, and Far East jaunts that occasionally resulted in a hometown show in Los Angeles – 3000 miles due West. While it was clearly a case of avoiding pearls before swine, that didn’t make it any easier to stomach. Sparks could be counted on to never play the East Coast of he United States. Until this tour, the Revenge of Two Hands One Mouth Tour! I had wailed an gnashed through the entire “Two Hands, One Mouth” tour that saw just Ron on Keyboards and Russell on voice performing the cream of their entire 41 year career that took place in the usual [cool] places: Paris, Brussels, London, and this time an entire leg up the West Coast!

This summer I was keeping an eye on the Mountain Oasis Electronic Music Festival that was being held in town this October when Sparks were a shocking late addition to the roster! We were planning to attend, but Sparks soon afterward announced the “Revenge Of The Two Hands One Mouth” tour, and this time it took in the entire East Coast of the USA! Not only would cosmopolitan NYC be getting their first Sparks show in a decade, but whole swaths of the Southeast would be getting their first Sparks show ever! It was easy [but weird] to blow off Sparks in my own town at a fe$tival [with $150 passes] to instead see the band in the less frantic climes of Atlanta’s Variety Playhouse. It was only a four hour drive away and with $25 tickets in a nice, seated deco theater, the money we saved would pay for gas, food, lodging, plus record shopping at Wax N’ Facts [right down the street] and merch at the table! The decision was the quintessential “no-brainer.”

We would be attending with old friend chasinvictoria having already rendezvoused with us in D.C. the previous week for Simple Minds and accompanied us home to Asheville to chill for a few days. He would then depart Atlanta for the rest of his US tour without us, but fortified by having seen Sparks in concert. My wife also enjoyed the band, albeit far earlier than I had. She had in fact already seen them once before… in 1976 opening up for Patti Smith! We arrived at the Variety Playhouse at the time of doors opening, but there was a short line still outside of the box office. We could hear soundchecking taking place from within the club when the stage doors on the side of the building opened. We started chatting amiably with Trish, a friendly woman in a Rolling Stones 2002 tour jacket and Doc Martens.

Trish was in the same boat as my wife as she had also not seen the band since that fabled Patti Smith tour for “Horses” back in ’76! After about another half hour of waiting, the doors finally opened around 8:30 as the by now long line of fans entered the club. I stopped at the merch table up front and bought a t-shirt and the band’s new double live CD from the first leg of the tour; their first in concert album ever in over 40 years of playing! At least this time I wouldn’t find empty merch tables as did I mention that this date was the WORLD PREMIERE of the “Revenge Of Two Hands One Mouth” tour? Well, it was! No one had any idea of what would await us onstage just minutes away, but I was fervently hoping that “Suburban Homeboy” would remain in the sure-to-be-changing set list! My wife burns a candle brightly for that tune and her playing it for hours at a time on repeat have managed to ignite an equal admiration from my end as well.

When we took our seats, we were happy to sit with Trish as we found that she had come from a town in South Carolina to attend. In front of us was a Tyler, gregarious young fan with boyfriend in tow who quickly struck up delightful conversation. They had come from Nashville and had won the long-distance driving lotto. Tyler had a vector of infection from David Bowie talking up Sparks proving that when heroes talk, fans listen. Being surrounded by friendly Sparks fans was a real treat and took our minds off of the initially humorous but increasingly weird circus calliope music that was playing pre-show. Chasinvictoria saw someone he recognized and lo and behold, it was Murray Attaway… the erstwhile vocalist of Georgia’s finest, Guadalcanal Diary! We were introduced so I was happy to shake his hand and proclaim my honest admiration for Guadalcanal Diary. Indeed, I had just played the excellent “2×4” a few weeks earlier since it’s always time to hear the amazing “Litany [Life Goes On]” in the Record Cell! After that it was back to our seats for more impromptu Sparks fan chat when the lights finally dimmed and the show began. What would be the first song to greet us live on this brand new tour?

Next: …Please hold…

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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7 Responses to Sparks @ Variety Playhouse 10-23-13 [part 1]

  1. zoo says:

    I’m not much of a Sparks fan, but they’re definitely one of those who I admire but don’t actually enjoy (same as Lou Reed). Still, I enjoy you’re posts and look forward to the next one(s).

    You seeing Murray Attaway reminds me of the time I saw Emily Ray of the Indigo Girls at an REM show in Miami around ’89 or so. She was dancing in the aisle next to me. I recognized her and shook her hand.


    • postpunkmonk says:

      zoo – I would not have bugged Murray on my own. I never bother musicians I recognize in public. It doesn’t happen that often any way. In any case, the last image of him that I saw was from his “In Thrall” album of twenty years ago, so I absolutely would not have recognized him on my own. He looked quite different. But my friend did introduce us, so it happened.

      I “admired” Sparks until I started buying their albums. Now not having them all bums me out but I only have so much money. I’ve also waited on the back catalogue due to various, conflicting reissue programs. I’m waiting to see how it all falls out.


  2. Echorich says:

    My intro to Sparks was on the Propaganda album…in fact I own it still on 8-track! I believe that The Thin White Duke’s admiration of the band is what got me interested in them and they certainly fit into the evermore tilted path my musical taste was going. Don’t Leave Me Alone with her was a wild ride and Achoo was just plain fun. By the time I really got into them, I was already exposed to Talking Heads, Jonathan Richman and The Tubes. Sparks slotted right in but also had a sort of intelectual edge that I found intriguing.
    But it was Kimono My House that sold me big time on Sparks…This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both Of Us is a classic of the late glam era and alone makes them deserving of a place in Rock & Roll History. I have to believe that artists such as Mark Mothersbaugh and Andy Partridge had to have digested huge amount of Sparks to find their individual directions.


  3. I normally don’t bother musicians I notice, but Murray and I have corresponded periodically since the GD days when I was a young man basking in the luxury of being in the right place (Atlanta/Athens) at the right time (periodically throughout the late 70s/early 80s). Murray is to my mind the gold standard of Atlanta-based singer/songwriters, and believe me there’s an impressive list of those.

    We hadn’t seen each other in the flesh in decades (!), but he’s got a distinctive look. It was a very happy “reunion” of sorts. A perfect warm up for the show (aside to The Monk: was there ever a better teaser for the next instalment than the one above?!) :)


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