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LIVE REPORT: FFS
Jeremy Allen , July 7th, 2015 16:00

Jeremy Allen reports from Bataclan in Oberkampf

Photo by Matthew McAndrew

Next year, if I have it my way, then Roland Orzabal of Tears For Fears will get together with Flaming Lips under the acronymous appellation ROFL. They'll do a concept album all about Chairman Mao and the Cultural Revolution, and the artwork will feature the letters ROFLMAO emblazoned across the album sleeve. Unlikely you might think, but with the glut of strange collaborations of late, anything's possible. And besides, last year when I watched Ron and Russell Mael play at the Alhambra in Paris, I wished dearly that they'd return to the city one day with a full band. Not only did Sparks return sooner than I'd hoped, but they also brought a mighty band back with them. Yes this time they came with Franz Ferdinand. Forget "be careful what you wish for", be frivolous more like.

At the roomy and boomy Bataclan in Oberkampf, it's clear that this rather gay marriage is the gift that keeps giving. Each song shakes your hand like an old pal, whether it be one of either group's own classics - 'The No.1 Song In Heaven' or 'Michael' - or one of their addictive new stompers ('Johnny Delusional' or 'Police Encounters'). They make an odd couple - the towering Alex Kapranos and the poncho'd Russell Mael (who with each passing year seems to resemble more and more the second Doctor, Patrick Troughton), but it somehow works. Yes, some collaborations do work, and this venue is big enough for the both of them...

As two working bands, they slot into each other effortlessly, and make a peculiarly handsome power couple. There's a popular narrative doing the rounds that both somehow needed each other - that they'd become artistically moribund before this union had, ahem, sparked things back into life. That's nonsense. Franz's last album Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action was a wonderful return to form itself, while Sparks haven't recorded a studio album since The Seduction Of Ingmar Bergman in 2009 - their 22nd studio album - meaning a new persona was all but inevitable. You wonder how this pair found each other, and their handiwork in partnership is no less devastating.

Highlights include a rousing 'Do You Want To', roared by all and sundry like a bawdy Oktoberfest singalong, and a sprawling 'Dictator's Son', which has the audacity to mention Nat King Cole, Instagram, the Bundesliga and Hugo Boss all in the same song, and is full of emphatic high camp glam rock posturing. 'Power Couple' sounds like The Fall covering 'Nelly The Elephant', while 'So Desu Ne' sees Alex and Russell join Nick McCarthy and Bob Hardy on the same keyboard at the conclusion. The gig wouldn't be a Sparks gig (technically it isn't, but you know what I mean) without a little dance from the irrepressible Ron Mael, who two months shy of 70, never ceases to astonish. But best of all is a towering rendition of 'This Town Ain't Big Enough For The Both Of Us' which is so vivid it genuinely has me fighting back tears.

The fun and games aren't over just yet. Nick McCarthy throws himself into the crowd with his guitar strapped around his neck, and somehow manages to sail halfway across the Bataclan's sea of people and back onto the stage again without him missing a note. Then in the encore, FFS pull a medley out of the bag, merging 'When Do I Get To Sing 'My Way'?' with 'Call Girl', all threaded together with some neat Niles Rodgers-style guitar from McCarthy. And then to finish off, they finally play 'Collaborations Don't Work'. Sparks having worked separately before with both Faith No More and Justin Hawkins on the aforementioned 'This Town Ain't Big Enough For The Both Of Us', it's clear they're all a bunch of fibbers, but we'll let them off, because as gig experiences go this is nearly perfect. Had they managed to smuggle in 'Girl From Germany' then it might have been perfection itself. So, I'll be seeing you this time next year for the Four Tops and Fats Waller then. For the fucking win.

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