MICROTONES by Scott Gordon, editor and Mael-biter
Fall is when Madison tries to do all the concerts, which means our calendar section is all hands on deck for the contributors who are working far ahead on those previews, balancing brevity and utility with the well-researched insights. This is the time of year that I always wrestle with whether to do a big seasonal music overview; it's the conventional and expected thing, and would probably be pretty useful. The trouble is that this year it’s an incredible act not coming to Madison that’s dominating my attention.
I'm talking about the histrionic, puzzling, and frequently brilliant duo Sparks. That's right, the group behind the album A Woofer In Tweeter's Clothing are (as of press time) still listed as opening for Future Islands's October 3 stop at the Orpheum. I ran across that intriguing tidbit while doing some routine planning for our concert coverage and couldn't help but make a funny face. Sparks' presence on the bill seemed to be noted as a mere afterthought, despite what a rarity it is to see them in the Midwest, much less Madison. Then again, this is a Live Nation show, and that organization that is fairly useless when it comes to communicating basic information like who the opening acts are. Possibly even more useless when it's an indisputably great, if a bit long in the tooth, art-pop band that has a cult appeal opening for a very enjoyable band that's going to be a solid draw regardless of who’s lined up down the bill.
A few months back I did my due diligence and shot a quick message to the Orpheum to make sure the information was in fact accurate. "Yes, they are the opener," came the reply. Usually the need to verify such a thing would end there. Promoters in a given town can generally be counted on to give you t he basic details of who's playing on a given night without individual ticket buyers and dorky journalists having to confirm it with the band's representatives directly. But then that I noticed the show wasn't listed on Sparks' official website and, in fact, they were scheduled to be in Paris on October 1. If it's even logistically possible for the band to cross the Atlantic and half of America in time to open an October 3 show, we'd be watching a very tired Ron and Russell Mael. With an internal cry of "don't shoot me down," I emailed Sparks' publicist and booking agent and heard back from both immediately: Nope, they're not playing here. ("We had talked about it at one point!" the booking agent told me.)
Admittedly, this is the sort of oddball obsessive thing that matters to me and probably six other like-minded nerds in town, so it's understandable that it apparently ranks low on Live Nation's list of things to rectify. There's a lot of information to juggle at home, at work, at play in this crazy world and it doesn't take much for a stray piece of it to get away from you. Still, imagine if you're one of the two people who have already scrambled to buy a ticket based on the assumption that Sparks, the band who gifted the world Kimono My House, were going to be there. Nothing at all against Future Islands, but you, a hypothetical Sparks fan and probable fidgety glasses-adjuster, would be out at least $20 plus a $9 service fee per ticket, all thanks to this amateur-hour bullshit. It just seems like something a large, publicly traded company like Live Nation could get right. Becoming a worldwide concert-industry player apparently doesn't take that much in the way of basic competence, does it? Maybe this town just ain't big enough for both Sparks and all the other great stuff on the fall concert calendar.