Lil' Beethoven: Live in Stockholm [DVD]

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With 2004's Lil' Beethoven album rewarding Sparks with some of their most enthusiastic reviews in a decade (since Gratuitous Sax), the duo headed out on the road to offer up the baby maestro experience in what may or may not have been its native environment -- Lil' Beethoven himself, after all, was a performer par excellence; it was only right and proper that his emergence into the public eye should be celebrated in the most suitable surroundings. Stockholm certainly supplied that, as the bonus material appended to this DVD amply demonstrates -- the building itself is gorgeous. And Sparks dignify it with a presence that is a far cry from the occasionally tentative nature of their traditional live show. Of course, the slapstick and gimmicky humor that has long been Ron Mael's third greatest talent (after songwriting and looking weird) is much in evidence, and Russell still bounces around like an over-wound Ken doll. But the nine-song-strong Lil' Beethoven album is rendered immaculately, with backing tapes picking up the slack around the minimalist live band. From there, 13 "bonus live tracks" take you through a more conventional Sparks concert, but the mood and majesty of the earlier set lingers on, through both the expected hits and the occasional surprise inclusion -- "The Ghost of Liberace" is ethereally beautiful, "Hospitality on Parade" thunders like the night, and "When Do I Get to Sing 'My Way'" establishes itself among the greatest songs Ron Mael has ever written, autobiography or not. Clocking in at a very generous two-plus hours, Live in Stockholm was not Sparks' first DVD release. But, in the continuing absence of anything from either the 1974 or 1994 tours, it's certainly the best.

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