“We’re playing in a giant ashtray!” jests Arcade Fire front man Win Butler. Yes, band and crowd are encapsulated in a giant ashtray-shaped concrete block the locals like to call the Ross Bandstand, in the middle of Princes Street Gardens – and the rain has momentarily ceased.
Franz Ferdinand guitarist Nick McCarthy is stood just off stage, smiling and tapping his foot while eight crazy Canadians run around the stage like madmen, looking like they ought to be creating the biggest racket since dinosaur tennis. Somehow though, they all manage to hit everything at exactly the right time. Even when a cymbal stand collapses, the spectacled musician keeps the perfectly timed crashes coming by throwing it skywards and hitting it mid-air.
Switching instruments at a quicker rate than Michael Jackson changes his face, Arcade Fire absolutely stun the crowd of Franz fans with a simultaneously intelligent, fun, unique, well-rehearsed and perfectly executed 30-minute musical extravaganza that leaves mouths gaping so far it’s a wonder people aren’t filling up with rainwater.
Saving their best until last, Arcade Fire close their set with the singles, Power Out and Rebellion (Lies), firmly cementing their place in the hearts of a few thousand newly converted fans. Even when Butler decides to herd his band off stage with his microphone lead his fellow musicians keep playing with passion and precision, and when they do leave it seems to all be over far too quickly.
To say that Arcade Fire upstaged Franz Ferdinand would be like saying Michael Schumacher is a better sportsman than David Beckham – they’re both special in entirely different ways – and while there may be a small faction of the Scottish indie elite who like to criticise Kapranos and co. now they’ve gone all popular, tonight they prove that they’re worth every bit of ridiculous praise they get.
Opening with Michael, they get the giant ashtray dancing in no time at all, not to mention the thousands of people scattered out across the entire park, and the gang of revellers on the roof of one of Princes Street’s grand old buildings.
Mixing the familiar with the unfamiliar in perfect balance, they prove themselves to be no one-album-wonder, causing equal jubilation from the crowd with new tracks such as I’m Your Villain and This Boy, and one of the biggest reactions of the night is for new single Do You Want To.
The new tracks stick pretty firmly to the familiar Franz style, but with more Take Me Out style tempo changes and even more confidence and charm it’s clear to see how the band have progressed. They’ve even developed the stage presence they lacked in the early days, keeping the crowd visually amused while maintaining the tight musical professionalism required to pull off such a quirky and angular pop sound properly.
Closing their encore with This Fire, the cheers go on long after the band leave the stage. Shoulders sink as overexcited fans realise that’s it, but the smiles on their faces will remain for quite a while. Over the past two nights, the mighty Franz have played to 12,000 fans in the fair city of Edinburgh, and no doubt guaranteed the first 12,000 sales of their second album at the start of October. We might not be so good at football, but in Franz Ferdinand, Scotland has found itself something of which we can justifiably feel very, very proud.