By Hollister Dixon
Yes, Franz Ferdinand are still around.
The #1 question I got, when telling people that I was going to be seeing Franz Ferdinand, was this: “They’re still around?” The #2 question was, “Are they still good?” The answer to that question, without giving too much away, is also “yes”. Alex Kapranos’ band just celebrated the 10th anniversary of their eponymous debut, which launched them into the hearts and ears of just about everyone, helped in part with the damn-near-flawless “Take Me Out”, and also thanks to an innate ability to write kickass songs. Since then, the band has released three albums: 2005’s You Could Have It So Much Better, 2009’s Tonight: Franz Ferdinand, and last year’s Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action. Though I was pretty obsessed with the band’s first album, I never quite found it in me to offer the same love to the other three albums in the band’s catalog, despite thinking that they were still really quite good.
First, a moment to talk about the crowd: be it the draw of local radio, or the draw of mega-rad cool pop hits, or maybe it’s the fact that Alex Kapranos is very, very good looking, but it seemed that the crowd was inexplicably made up of 13-to-18-year-olds, some of which seemed to be at one of their first shows ever, if not the first. As I was upstairs for this performance, it was easy to watch these people react to the performances with genuine excitement and happiness. It’s somewhat rare to get to witness that these days, and it was very cool to see.
So, Cate Le Bon. She/they came on a few minutes before 9 o’clock and banged out a 30 minute set. It could have been fatigue, or it could have been the fact that I was feeling rather sick, but she/they really did nothing for me. This is a performer/act that puts her/their influences forward in a big way (see: Velvet Underground, Stereolab, Super Furry Animals), but none of it comes across as very original, or very vibrant. Throughout the performance, you could tell that there was a massive disconnect between the performer/band and the audience (who looked, to be honest, incredibly bored), and the performers onstage failed to recognize that. That, of course, brings up a big question: is it the responsibility of the performer to change their performance to engage the audience? In some ways no, but in some ways yes: Cate Le Bon simply continued to perform unphased by the steadily filling room, and it made it hard to come out of her/their performance with anything but disappointment and a lack of interest in giving her/them another chance.
For the first song of Franz Ferdinand‘s set, I felt a little bit like the above: boredom and disappointment. In hindsight, this was definitely brought on by fatigue, because the moment the band started playing the Franz Ferdinand track “Michael,” I couldn’t help but be incredibly excited to see this band. This continued through Tonight‘s “No You Girls,” and especially into “The Dark of the Matinee,” which whipped the crowd into an impossible frenzy – myself included. All said, they played seven songs from that first record, including the moody “Auf Achse” to the very elongated “This Fire” – all of which felt as potent as they did a decade ago.
I bring up that first album because it’s one that I have long accepted as a minor classic, though it’s one I forget about. Franz Ferdinand blew up around the same time as bands like The Killers and Kings of Leon and Kasabian, among a ton of other bands that have possibly not aged all that well. Hearing their name can, to some, feel like a throwback to a decade ago, when those bands were fresh, and huge, and everywhere. However, watching the band perform “Take Me Out” for possibly the 5000th time, it was incredibly clear why the band has aged well: they’re treating every show like it’s their first, and like it’s their last, all at once.
Hearing all of the songs that I wasn’t familiar with brought to mind something said about The Fall: “Always the same, always different.” That’s something that can be said about Franz Ferdinand, and it speaks to their longevity, and their consistency. That second most common question about the band? “Are they still good?” Before seeing them perform, it wasn’t such a silly question – but afterwards, it almost comes across as blasphemy. Watching 1000 kids dancing like the world was ending to “Bullet” and “The Fallen” and “Fresh Strawberries” was a wonderful reminder that, though I may forget about them, they’re still around, never changing their sound, but instead perfecting it. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Always the same, always different.
And so: if you’ve been sleeping on Franz Ferdinand: wake up, and start paying attention.