Mercury Music Award winners 2004, two million albums sold worldwide, the tough American market broken successfully and all from a band who were virtual unknowns just twelve months ago. Effortlessly balancing on the tricky tightrope between critical acclaim and commercial success, the Glasgow-based art-rockers’ achievements speak for themselves but what exactly is all the fuss about Franz Ferdinand?
Silhouetted through a curtain featuring a projection of the real Franz Ferdinand, (whose assassination triggered WWI don’t you know), it rises for frontman Alex Kapranos and co. to dive headlong into the tongue-in-cheek camp of Michael followed by the upbeat strut of Tell Her Tonight making it clear from the start that this is going to be a stirringly high-powered performance. The crisply-dressed quartet speed through hits Matinee and the tempo-shifting disco-rock of Take Me Out, playing with the spirit and energy of a group clearly enjoying every second of their performance while exuding a charisma, character and showmanship far beyond what many of today’s bland, lethargic acts can muster.
Kapranos proves a magnetic stage-presence, dancing, posing and heel-kicking his way through each song, the electro-flecked Come On Home seeing him jumping to a loftier perch in front of Paul Thomson’s drum kit. The similarly hyperactive, Nick McCarthy, then steals the limelight with a lively guitar solo during B-side Love and Destroy and engages in some kind of riff-trading face-off with Kapranos for 40ft. The singer subsequently takes us through an extended introduction of his fellow group-members before flowing seamlessly into the “Superphantastisch” chant of Darts of Pleasure.
Most of the album is aired, the melancholic yet buoyant-sounding Auf Asche and the pogo pop of Jacqueline included, but this is interspersed with fresh material like This Boy, an account of materialistic greed, and I Am Your Villain, which adds a dose of wistfulness to a typical Atomic-style bassline. While the new songs are not wildly different they maintain the trademark, infectious vigour and should prevent the high-flying foursome becoming mere one album pan-flashes.
The most transparently pre-planned encore ever witnessed then takes place, without even dimmed lights temporarily creating the impression the show is over while a huge drum is dragged onto the stage. This is followed by the entrance of a mystery drummer clad in a fighter pilot’s helmet and tight black cat suit who thumps a driving glam-rock beat as the rest of the band return to perform Shopping For Blood.
We are also treated to another new song, Your Diary, a tale of temptation forming another moment of stomping high drama, and finally, This Fire, Kapranos having a strange, robotic body-popping fit before leaping into the crowd for some hands-on adulation from the fans. This forms a typically exhilarating end to a frantic performance before Alex, Nick, Bob and Paul take a theatrical, hand-holding bow to enthusiastic, and fully-deserved, applause.
Overall their set is so confident, cocksure, and professional that it is easy to forget at times that they are a band still very much in their infancy and this is a performance befitting a much more experienced act. They maintain an air of intelligence and sophistication that is counterbalanced by memorable, catch-rich tunes and simple yet humorous, sing-a-long lyrics. Franz Ferdinand prove tonight that they are worthy of their success and the endless stream of praise heaped upon them and show how they have made 2004 their own. But can they keep their seemingly unstoppable momentum going?
Whatever the future may hold, It is a pleasure to see a band at the peak of their powers in full, fun-loving flow – the fuss over Franz’ is well and truly justified.