By Michael Kochman
Updated February 17, 2009 at 08:13 AM EST
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It was a subversive Valentine’s Day love-fest for L.A.’s very own Sparks, playing a rare U.S. concert on Saturday at UCLA’s Royce Hall. Why subversive? Well, along with Morrissey and Stephin Merritt’s The Magnetic Fields, Sparks is the band most likely to make you smile with their witty and biting songs about the mysteries of wooing and bedding the opposite sex.

Sparks, the Energizer Bunny of pop acts after 21 albums and 35+ years in the business, consists of brothers Ron and Russell Mael. Ron is the oddball, visionary composer and keyboardist with the John Waters-thin moustache, while Russell is the front man to rival Queen’s Freddie Mercury in energy and falsetto power. They are also on a bit of a roll. Last year, the band played all 21 of their albums on 21 consecutive nights in an historic U.K. tour. Sparks devoted the entire first half of the Saturday show to the band’s new album, Exotic Creatures of the Deep, which continues the form of Sparks’ previous two CDs, Lil’ Beethoven and Hello Young Lovers (rock with a very theatrical edge). More Sparks dish (and clips) after the jump…

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Sparks has always been as much a conceptual art projectas a rock band and the band’s new songs translate really well to theconcert stage with the inspired and ironic interplay between the Maelsand the background video projections. Highlights from the new album, performed as a mini-suite, were “Let the MonkeyDrive,” an ode to a fellow love-lorn kindred spirit titled “Lighten Up,Morrissey,” and the exquisite “Photoshop,” with its refrain,”Photoshop me out of your life!”

After the intermission, the band played its landmark 1974 album Kimono My Housein its entirety. As much as I loved hearing classics such as “This TownAin’t Big Enough for the Both of Us” (see clip below), it was the new songs thatultimately impressed more. How many pop acts are still recording andperforming new music that stands comparison with old hits? How manybands that were big in the ’70s can still fill a theater with so many young hipster fans whoweren’t even born when Kimono was released?

Sparks’ encore featured some of its best-loved songs — “When Do IGet to Sing My Way” and the epic disco tune “The No. 1 Song in Heaven”– and got the audience standing on its feet, giving the stuffy RoyceHall the feel of a giant club. You’ve gotta love a band that gets anentire audience to sing along joyfully to the final chorus on thebrilliant, satirical “Suburban Homeboy”: “Props to my peeps and pleasekeep your receipts!” Hey, Wes Anderson!Please jettison Mark Mothersbaugh and hire the Mael Bros. to score yournext movie. PopWatchers, speak up if you’re one of the few and theproud that love Sparks!

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