This rare Sparks footage from 1976 shows they've always been an unmatched live band - the rest of the world just needed to catch up

American rock group, Sparks, 1976. Left to right: guitarist Luke Zamperini, keyboard player Ron Mael, bassist Sal Maida, singer Russell Mael, drummer Hilly Boy Michaels and guitarist Jim McAllister
(Image credit: Richard Creamer/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

It was a long, entertaining road to Sparks’ triumphant Glastonbury set at the weekend. Following Shaun Of The Dead director Edgar Wright’s 2021 film The Sparks Brothers, a new generation of fans have discovered Ron and Russell Mael’s baroque, glam-pop brilliance and their recently-released new record The Girl Is Crying Into Her Latte had the celebratory air of a victory lap, entering the UK charts at number seven. Shockingly, their set at Glastonbury was their first ever performance at the festival (because no, we’re not counting them appearing there under the banner of FFS, their collaboration with Franz Ferdinand). 

It's almost like the siblings have just been waiting for everyone else to catch up. A recently-rediscovered concert shows that they have been a mesmeric live band from the get-go. Performing at the Capitol Theatre, Passaic, New Jersey in 1976, it captures the band in thrilling form. 

In truth, at the time Sparks were undergoing a bit of an identity crisis. They’d returned home from England, where their now-classic This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us had become a hit, back to America, switching up their backing band and retooling their sound for more of a West Coast flavour. It hadn’t exactly worked: their 1976 album Big Beat was already their sixth but it was underwhelming, failing to chart in either the US or the UK. 

Despite that, perhaps they took heart from their live sets, where the Maels were a match for anyone. There was certainly no question that they were going to give up – instead, Sparks kept going, introducing synth-pop shades into their sound and quietly garnering an army of diehard fans whose commitment to the Sparks cause has been unwavering. One of those diehards was Edgar Wright, who has helped shine a light onto cult heroes currently getting some well-earned attention. 

Check out the full 1976 set below.

Niall Doherty

Niall Doherty is a writer and editor whose work can be found in Classic Rock, The Guardian, Music Week, FourFourTwo, on Apple Music and more. Formerly the Deputy Editor of Q magazine, he co-runs the music Substack letter The New Cue with fellow former Q colleagues Ted Kessler and Chris Catchpole. He is also Reviews Editor at Record Collector. Over the years, he's interviewed some of the world's biggest stars, including Elton John, Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys, Muse, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Depeche Mode, Robert Plant and more. Radiohead was only for eight minutes but he still counts it.