Spark - Upstairs at the Relentless Garage, London
Part of the problem with showcase gigs such as HMV Next Big Thing’s festival is that the term ‘sold out’ can be very misleading. There’s every chance that people will buy tickets just to a specific act and leave once that one’s been and gone, leaving a headliner to play to a room that definitely doesn’t look sold out. So proved to be the case last night with Spark’s headline set in the upstairs section at the Relentless Garage.
There was a definite changing of the guard in the crowd once Ed Drewett, who co-wrote The Wanted’s hit ‘All Time Low’, finished his set - and while the room was certainly fuller than for his set, there was the space to swing the proverbial cat. This may have threatened to lead to a potentially flat gig but fortunately Spark wasn’t about to get deflated, putting in a performance full of character and energy that practically served as a middle finger up to the people who were foolish enough to leave.
We can get the one disappointment of the set out of the way first: its length. Clocking in around 30 minutes, it almost belied Spark’s status as headliner as the other supports had put in a similar shift but, to put a positive spin on it, the fact that its shortness was a disappointment and not a relief, shows how strong her set was. Showcasing both her singles, as well as her take on Eminem’s and Rihanna’s ‘Love The Way You Lie’, the set was enjoyable from start to finish and left us craving for her debut album. Part of her success comes from the sheer variety of her output: from the sugary electro pop of ‘Revolving’ to the almost menacing harder rock edge of ‘Crave’, she’s difficult to pigeonhole - a nightmare for music critics. In lesser hands, it may seem somewhat schizophrenic but she holds it all together by putting her own distinct spin on each genre she approaches, leaving it sounding quintessentially Sparky.
This variety wouldn’t work though if there weren’t the decent tracks to back it up and even at this early stage, Spark seems to have that area covered. ‘Crave’ is an absolute stormer of a track, darker in tone than ‘Revolving’ but still as catchy, but the set highlight is a straight race between two newbies ‘Scream’ and ‘Damage Done’. The former makes great use of a dual vocal (both Spark’s) and has a dirty funk rhythm to boot, while the latter allows her to showcase her considerable vocal range on a track that Florence Welch probably wishes she'd written.
Spark makes full use of the live setting as well, both with her on-stage presence – her wonderfully expressive face and animated, energetic persona is something no one could fail to warm to – and fresh tweaks she adds to her tracks. ‘Revolving’, for example, is given its own little mini-remix halfway through and her cover of ‘Love The Way You Lie’ breaks down into essentially a dubstep performance by the end. Without hearing the final recorded versions, it’s hard to know exactly what’s been added to the tracks displayed tonight, but there is a definite urban, dance floor-esque edge to most of them that works impressively, although may have surprised the people here tonight to listen to a set of 80s synth pop on the basis of ‘Revolving’.
It all comes back to the fact that Spark is seemingly impossible to categorise. Pretty much the only thing we can discern from tonight is that running seems to be a key motif, appearing in at least three of the tracks, and running isn’t a genre as far as we know. But whoever said originality wasn’t a good thing? She’s just Spark, and that’s fine by us.