The Glaswegian band’s ability to entertain an audience 20 years on is in no doubt in this dynamic performance, showcasing greatest hits compilation Hits To The Head
Franz Ferdinand was one of a raft of flourishing indie-guitar bands that hit the UK music scene in the early/mid-2000s. Their self-styled “disco-beat guitar music” started with an edgy, post-punk sound which evolved into a smoother dance-rock fusion with a finely balanced mix of hooks and grooves – always with artful lyrics and a stylish image. Their Hits To The Head “best-of” album, released in March, celebrates 20 years of success with 20 songs covering the Glaswegian band’s whole career.
The extensive promotional tour saw Franz Ferdinand gigging around Europe in the spring and North America in the summer. Just before heading over to the Continent again, they finally make it to London for a concert postponed from 1 April. A greatest hits compilation may seem a bit of a desperate bid to plug their longest gap since last recording a studio album (in 2018) – with several changes to the line-up suggesting the band is in trouble creatively. But their ability to still entertain a live audience is in no doubt with a dynamic performance at Alexandra Palace.
The two original band members, lead singer/guitarist Alex Kapranos and bassist Bob Hardy, are joined by Julian Corrie on keyboards, Dino Bardot on rhythm guitar and Audrey Tait on drums (replacing guitarist Nick McCarthy and drummer Paul Thomson). This year is the first time the five-piece has performed together publically – but they have melded seamlessly.
Front man Kapranos – looking as dapper as always in a dark pinstripe suit with red-shirt collar over lightning-flash lapel – is a charismatic, energetic presence, jumping on amps and working the audience enthusiastically. After the enforced covid hiatus, there is a palpable sense of release: As Kapranos says: “I don’t want to make a big thing of it, but I think it’s great that we can finally all meet together in one big room.”
The band perform almost all of the songs from Hits To The Head (though not in the album’s chronological order) in an exuberant 80-minute show. The 18 tracks cover all five studio albums, but their Mercury Prize-winning eponymous debut takes the foreground, while their most recent – Always Ascending – is represented by a single song. The backdrop behind the band displays the Hits To The Head album cover – featuring Franz Ferdinand’s usual Russian avant-garde, black, white and red imagery – with a large screen either side of the stage showing the band playing in monochrome video.
The show begins theatrically with them performing early single The Dark Of The Matinée behind a translucent curtain in silhouette, which then drops as they emerge to face the crowd’s adulation. The infectious beat of favourite No You Girls leads to the chorus being bellowed out around the auditorium. Curious, one of two new songs included in Hits To The Head, may not break any new ground but its classy groove stands up well amongst the back catalogue.
Evil Eye is more off-kilter, with its horror-like eeriness set to a funk-rap-punk in the style of The Clash’s Sandinista, before the more straightforward dancefloor bounciness of Do You Want To takes over. Always Ascending starts off dreamily but turns into a synth-driven body-mover. After Kapranos teases, “It’s not on the Hits To The Head album but we feel like playing it anyway”, the band launches into Jacqueline – and its angular guitar-playing goes down a storm, as does spiky first single Darts Of Pleasure. No question, though, the song that gets the biggest crowd reaction is the iconic, time-signature-changing Take Me Out which really put Franz Ferdinand on the map.
For Outsiders everyone ends up on percussion, with the addition of support act Los Bitchos (an all-female, Latin American cumbia instrumental band from London, whose debut album released earlier this year was produced by Kapranos), before briefly exiting the stage. The encores kick off with the band’s other new song, Billy Goodbye, a glam-rock stomp. And they end with an extended, incendiary performance of This Fire, amidst flaming red lights and chief pyromaniac Kapranos leading the crowd in yelling “Burn this city”. It’s a cathartic climax to a long-anticipated show.