• Review

Review: Sparta - 20 Years of Wiretap Scars

Photo Cred: Jared Bowers

Sparta vocalist and guitarist Jim Ward, towards the end of their incredible, powerful set, said something to the effect of, “I resisted touring on this album for a long time because of all the bad memories I associated with making it.” It was only last year, as they toured with The Get Up Kids and fans would approach him with stories of what the album meant to them, how they felt when it came out and listening to it in the present, that his perspective shifted and he was able to see and hear the album the way fans do.

So now, on the 20th anniversary release of their debut album Wiretap Scars, Sparta is on one of the last US legs of the tour where they’re playing the album start to finish. For this particular leg - the others of which have seen a variety of different opening acts depending on time and region - Sparta invited Venezuelan post-rock and experimental punk outfit Zeta and Thursday frontman Geoff Rickly to join them. I’m thankful that they made one of their last stops in Covington last night, at what is quickly becoming one of my favorite spaces in the city, Madison Live!


I’ve been following the Venezuelan band Zeta on social media for awhile, absolutely fascinated and impressed with the amount of touring that they do, and with how chaotically cathartic their live show seemed to be. Their affiliation with one of my favorite indie labels, Skeletal Lightning, was what first caught my attention. Tireless in both their work ethic and stage presence, Zeta was a damn near holy experience to witness in such an intimately sized space, with thundering drums and percussion, riotous synth, psychedelic guitar work, and lyrics sung entirely in their native tongue. It was everything I thought the set was going to be, and more. Geoff Rickley commented about how, when Thursday plays together, one of the basic tenets of the band is that they leave nothing on the stage by the time their set is done. Zeta embodies that ethos in a big, brash, and frankly exhilarating way. I absolutely cannot wait to see them live again.


I was fortunate enough to arrive not long after doors opened to find Geoff Rickly sitting at the merch table with copies of his debut novel, Someone Who Isn’t Me, and a few Thursday items for sale. Having seen Thursday a handful of times, and having spent a decade in New Jersey where Thursday continues to reign supreme, it was a bit of a thrill to get to talk with him for a bit about the novel and the process of writing it. I forgot to mention how much I enjoyed the chapter in Dan Ozzi’s awesome breakdown of the major label feeding frenzy of the late 90’s/early 00’s. Maybe next time…

It seemed reasonable that his set would be nothing if not interesting, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t genuinely surprised by both the way he reworked classic Thursday tracks as well as his between-song storytelling. Honestly, if he were to do a solo tour where he just told stories with a few songs scattered throughout, I’d be there front row center. Of the 6-7 songs in his set, most were some of Thursday’s better known offerings - but it was an absolute treat to get to hear “This Song Brought To You By A Falling Bomb” off of my favorite Thursday album, War All The Time (which I’m hoping to hear played in full about a month from now when they take the stage at Bogart’s). Warm, funny, personable and just sheer joy to watch perform, Rickley’s relatively short set has become a quick favorite.


I didn’t really know what to expect when Sparta took the stage. It has actually been 20 years since the last time I’d seen them - at Skate & Surf Fest in New Jersey. I can’t remember if it was between album cycles, or closer to the release of Wiretap Scars or their second LP, Porcelain. Since this was the celebration, or at least recognition, of the 20th anniversary of their debut album, it was a safe assumption that they’d play the album front to back. What I wasn’t anticipating was just how good it would sound - especially as they’re now a 3-piece - and how moved by the experience I would be.

As soon as they were plugged in and ready to go, the band - consisting of former At The Drive-In guitarist Jim Ward, with Matt Miller on bass (an almost original member of the band), and touring drummer Neil Hennesy - they launched into the albums’ opening track and didn’t look back. At first I found it strange that they didn’t speak between any of the songs. They just… played. Then, when the album was complete - and I should mention here that everything sounded incredible, all the way through, technical issues be damned - Ward spoke briefly and brought things into perspective.

“We made the decision early on in the tour to just play the album all the way through without any talking - and I like to talk! - because we know what the album means to you all and we wanted you to be able to live in those memories.” A perfect decision to make, for the exact right reasons. I remember vividly how often Wiretap Scars was in the CD player, how much I enjoyed the way the album moved from straightforward rockers to airy, slow movers, to effects laden, At The Drive-In adjacent stylings. It was an album that just made a lot of sense, you know? And to this day - especially after seeing and hearing the band play the material all the way through last night - it still holds up in a truly awesome way.

The show was over before 10:30 (Old Man Me thanks everyone for the kindness), but I was so jazzed, so energized by the experience, it would be several hours before I finally drifted off to sleep. I feel fortunate to have been able to see 3 great sets by such important bands and musicians. Cheers to Madison Live! for bringing this one to town. And, of course, cheers to 20 years of the phenomenal Wiretap Scars and Sparta.

Sparta - 20 Years of Wiretap Scars

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