Sparks trotted out some intriguing news — and a special guest — during the Los Angeles duo's homecoming performances over the weekend at the Theater at Ace Hotel in downtown L.A.
The band was performing a pair of gigs built around complete performances of its watershed 1974 album "Kimono My House." Toward the end of the show's second half, Sparks founders Ron and Russell Mael were joined by singer Alex Kapranos of Scottish indie rock band Franz Ferdinand for Sparks' song "When Do I Get to Sing 'My Way.' "
FOR THE RECORD
An earlier version of this post described Suzie Katayama as an associate conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. She is a Los Angeles-based freelance conductor.
Russell Mael earlier announced that the two bands had collaborated on writing and recording an album, and that the new unit — whose name has not been revealed — would tour in Europe starting in June, with plans for some U.S. dates to follow.
"This all started coming together when both our bands played Coachella two years ago," Kapranos told Pop & Hiss backstage after the show.
"We were both in San Francisco at the same time, and we started talking, you know, 'We should record a song together sometime,' " he said. "A lot of times people say that, and nothing ever happens, but they followed up, and we started exchanging ideas, and pretty quickly we had six songs worked up and realized, 'This is going to be an album.'"
Kapranos called Sparks "a huge influence" and said the song they performed together, from Sparks' 1994 album "Gratuitous Sax & Violins," "is so important to me. To get to sing it with them is such an honor."
For the first half of the show, the Mael brothers reinvented "Kimono My House" by way of performing it with a 38-piece orchestra assembled by freelance conductor Suzie Katayama, playing arrangements written by Nathan Kelly.
The orchestra brought inspired new textures to the material, which opened with their breakthrough hit "This Town Ain't Big Enough for the Two of Us," featuring Russell's stratospheric falsetto vocals that are often operatic in their range and technical expertise.
Ron, as usual, sat stoically at the keyboard — a grand piano for most of the night, but occasionally moving to his Roland synthesizer (its logo modified, as always, to read "Ronald"). Both were outfitted in stylish kimonos, and it often appeared that the members of the orchestra were enjoying the show as much as the members of the packed house in the ornate 1,600-seat theater, a 1927 United Artists movie palace that reopened on Valentine's Day last year after a major renovation.
The use of the orchestra parallels Sparks' exploration in the last decade and a half of music that can invoke the power and immediacy of rock away from the standard guitar-bass-drums core instrumentation.
That was applied during the second half to several songs of more recent vintage, including the opening track from the ground-breaking 2002 album "Lil' Beethoven," to the twisted wit of "Let the Monkey Drive" from 2008's "Exotic Creatures of the Deep."
They also offered up an extended two-song sampling from their in-the-works feature film of their 2009 radio play/concept album "The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman."
The orchestral arrangements frequently brought new shading, unexpected shifts in tone and generally fresh emphasis to Sparks' skewed perspective, which 45 years into their career, appears to be as passionately forward-looking as ever.