It’s gotten to be a bit of a rock band cliche, but it’s nevertheless refreshing to see Franz Ferdinand playing a tour of ‘small, intimate venues’ as a warm-up to their full-on assault on various international festivals later this summer.
Refreshing because no matter how big the four boys from Glasgow get in the future, there’s something about their punky intensity that will always be best heard in the confines of a small, dark club.
And while the Point – a stately converted church located in Cardiff’s gentrified Bay Area – couldn’t be further away from the art shows and mates’ houses that the band began their career in, its modest size and superior acoustics ensure that everyone in the venue is no more than a thrown drumstick away from the fab four themselves. If chief Franz Alex Kapranos’ banter can’t be understood, well, it’s got a lot more to do with his accent than the The Point’s soundsystem.
The last venue that Franz Ferdinand played in Cardiff was the International Arena, and the ease with which Kapranos gets the crowd to clap along to the evening’s opener, a driving, powerful take on Michael suggests that they hasn’t left all of their arena rock moves at home, a point ably made again later as Kapranos and guitarist Nick McCarthy interrupt Tell Her Tonight with some major scissor-kick action. The band seem to be having a ball, and for the first few songs we get highlights from their two albums, 2004’s Franz Ferdinand and 2005’s You Could Have It So Much Better, including a great Dark of The Matinee, and a tender, more pensive Walking Away.
But this is 2008, and the band haven’t released a new album for three years. And while there’s been a slow trickle of new tunes which have primarily ended up on fan club 7-inches and film soundtracks, Kapranos’ recent suggestions that the new album may be held back to 2009 means that anyone jonesing for a new Franz fix will need to catch them live.
And, despite what you might have heard about the new ‘African’ direction from the group, we’re offered up pretty much more of the same; effortlessly tuneful and sharp, sure, but no real left turns, no obvious changes in musical direction, just tuneful, catchy, bounce-up-and-down guitar pop. It’s not easy to identify any of the new tunes by name, but going on the lyrics and the band’s own website it’s possible to discern the tracks Ulysses, Kathryn Kiss Me, What She Came For, and perhaps even Lucid Dreams…but don’t quote me on that one.
The band play flawlessly, enthusiastically, even; it’s often hard to know if the musicians are having as good a time as the audience, but the shit-eating smiles on the foursomes’ faces makes it all pretty clear. Yet even as the band finish their encore with a pounding This Fire – sounding more and more like Trevor Jackson’s Playgroup remix every time it’s played – how long will their fans be happy with more of the same, as excellent as it all is? For Franz Ferdinand are not McFly; their lead singer writes books, their guitarist paints – this is a band who wear their art school past clearly and obviously on their sleeves. But, except for a polyrhythmic interlude where the percussionists from Panico join them to provide Miami Vice-esque rim shots to a pretty standard pop punk tune, there is little evidence of their threatened forward direction that the band have riffed on in recent interviews.
Franz Ferdinand came to Cardiff, and saw, and rocked, for sure, but if they want their audience of mainly 20 and 30somethings to keep up with them, they’d better pull something other than scissor kicks out of the leftfield for their next album.