It was only two years ago that Franz Ferdinand were supposed to make their triumphant return at Field Day in 2012 as headliners. In the end, the combination of a truly rotten downpour and new songs that sounded a little underwhelming dampened the mood. Not even the reliable hits had the firepower to cause a minor skirmish, let alone to unleash a world war. It was even enough to make one ponder the following question: is this really the end of Franz Ferdinand altogether?
Fast forward two years and it turns out that it was foolish to even consider that possibility, but the road to recovery hasn’t been plain sailing. It’s been a decade since they burst onto the scene, gracing nearly every popular music magazine front cover and being quite inescapable across the airwaves. In the mid-’00s they were the frontrunners for the wave of new, young hotly-tipped British bands (most of whom have either perished or haven’t sustained their popularity since), but since the buzz died down they’ve had mixed fortunes in terms of critical and commercial success. In the wake of their third album, Tonight: Franz Ferdinand, there was even talk of them calling it a day for good.
Whatever problems there were in the Franz camp have clearly been resolved. In the expansive surroundings of the Roundhouse, expectations are just as high as for their return to the live scene two years ago. On this occasion though, it comes off the back of an excellent record. Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action has revitalised the quartet to the point where they can comfortably sell out two nights at the historic Camden venue at the start of a UK tour. The crowd is ready for Friday night fun and that is precisely what they get over a deeply satisfying 90 minutes during which they do enough to leave casual admirers, die-hard fanatics and everyone in-between happy.
From behind the drumkit they all emerge complete with matching uniforms and flanked by the kind of arty visuals that have dominated their visual output throughout their career, and launch into Bullet as they make their way to the front of the stage. Alex Kapranos and Nick McCarthy dart around with deadly intent in their eyes. Audience members down the front are already taken in by their spell; almost immediately, the band have the public in the palm of their hands.
Their musicianship throughout is outstanding – with the exception of their 2004/2005 heyday it’s difficult to remember a time when they’ve sounded this stellar and vital. It’s a fast-moving and energetic performance, with Kapranos acting as master of ceremonies with aplomb and conviction. Banter is kept to a minimum, but the trade-off is that songs tumble into each other. It takes a confident band to attempt to follow a mash-up as exhilarating as Can’t Stop Feeling/I Feel Love without killing the momentum or missing a beat, but they manage to achieve just that as the opening dramatic keyboard flourishes of Auf Achse kick in.
The setlist is generously proportioned, with 24 songs in total. The success rate of the newer material varies – Evil Eye and Brief Encounters are both highlights but Fresh Strawberries and Stand On The Horizon are a little too subdued – but it’s the singles, which the band emphatically refuse to shy away from, that hit the target with ease. Their back catalogue is also now starting to bulge with knockout songs that, side-by-side on the setlist, are devastating. Michael, Take Me Out, Love Illumination, This Fire and Ulysses (all of this played as an astonishing conclusion to the main set) stick to the tried-and-tested ethos of making people dance without a care in the world.
“Is this really the end?” asks Kapranos as he looks to McCarthy for a confirming shake of the head, just before they launch into a blistering version of Outsiders, complete with samba-style extended outro, that finishes off the encore and, when the rhythmic onslaught dies down and the house lights are switched on, it’s very difficult not to feel anything other than ecstatic. Franz Ferdinand’s career is littered with melodies, grooves and idiosyncratic moments that other indie bands wish they had. Tonight was a triumphant showcase of how good these Scotsmen still are at what they do, and confirmation that they’ve admirably regained their mojo.