Sparks @ Highline Ballroom

MANHATTAN, NY—One of rock’s quirkiest musical entities since the release of their first album in 1971, Sparks, despite various group-like lineups and the use of studio musicians, are brothers Ron (keyboards) and Russell (vocals) Mael.

Dubbed the Two Hands, One Mouth tour, the siblings’ first venture into New York since a Central Park show in 2002 found them performing the sold-out bill as a duet. With house lights already dimmed, the pre-show music blasting from the speakers was the calliope sound of a big-top circus, as the Highline quickly filled to capacity with one of the most eclectic audiences in club history.

Opening their hour-and-a-half-long set with Ronald, dressed in white shirt, black tie, and Hitler-esque mustache, alone on stage performing the specially-written “Two Hands, One Mouth Overture,” the crowd erupted into wild cheers as the opening riff of “The Rhythm Thief” filled the air and Russell bounded into view wearing elf-toed shoes, horizontally-striped knee socks, brown, knee-length knickers and a matching jacket.

Owner of a beautifully operatic vocal range that defies gravity, Russell’s energetic yet oddly awkward stage presence played well against older brother Ronald’s inert, deadpan, disinterested and practically bored demeanor as his hands flew across the keyboards, pounding out delightfully stripped down versions of songs that, on record, are frequently multi-layered, lavishly-produced and complexly arranged.

The basic keyboard accompaniment coupled with Russell’s still amazingly supple vocals brought new life to songs from the duo’s 20-plus, 40-year-old album catalog including the incredibly catchy “Metaphor,” “Propaganda” and “At Home, At Work, At Play.” The bouncy “Sherlock Holmes” exposed as a heartbreaking love song whereas “Angst In My Pants” and “Talent Is An Asset” were wildly applauded. There was also a gorgeously crooned “Under The Table With Her.”

A visually dramatic and aurally exciting show despite the sparse stage setting, additional highlights included “Dick Around,” “My Baby’s Taking Me Home,” “The Wedding Of Jacqueline Kennedy To Russell Mael,” four selections from The Seduction Of Ingmar Bergman, a thrilling version of “This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us,” the tongue-in-cheek “Suburban Homeboy,” “Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth,” and a gorgeously dramatic “When Do I Get To Sing ‘My Way’.”

The brothers thanked the crowd profusely for the “overwhelming display of love” as they returned for a loudly-demanded encore that led off with the electronica pioneering “The Number One Song In Heaven” that morphed into a vibrating, danceable, very modern take on the previously disco-friendly “Beat The Clock” that left the cultish, Sparks-satiated crowd buzzing as they exited the venue into the cool spring evening.