In 2004 art school rock band Franz Ferdinand crashed onto the music scene with their self-titled album and scored an enviable industry hat-trick – Mercury Music Award, two Brits and NME Best Album of the Year. With the release of “Tonight: Franz Ferdinand” in 2009, the Scottish quartet skilfully navigated the treacherous waters of the notorious ‘third album’, staying faithful to their playful, thumping signature-sound whilst offering fans an exotic whiff of reinvention. But reinvention can be a dangerous thing, and last night’s 90 minute set at Leeds Academy was a textbook example in the problems of skirting the divide between familiar refrains and innovative new sounds.
The band opened with their homoerotic classic ‘Michael’ which set an unfaltering tone for the evening, the crowd immediately chanting and clapping wildly. The band has taken a step back from the alt-rock, guitar heavy beats of their older work, though this trademark sound is still the core DNA of their new album – additional keyboards and beats giving the art-rock band a more electronic vibe. Yet despite this shift the set list fitted together seamlessly, showing the natural progression of their sound. Older tracks such ‘Do You Want To’, ‘Tell Her Tonight’ and chart-topper ‘Take me Out’ warmed up the crowd perfectly before the band launched into a slew of new songs including ‘Ulysses’ and ‘Can’t Stop Feeling.’
With knowledge of the band’s recent collaboration with DJ Erol Alkan, and their sound evolution, I was unsure of the reaction they would receive from their older fans. Like many indie acts who gained almost instantaneous fame with their earlier work, there was a split within the audience; those who were there to hear their progressive sound and those who – quite frankly – were not.
Many of the crowd were not too enamoured with their new stance, and actually seemed a little confused by it all, but it was impossible not to be impressed by the band’s breathtaking talent and flexibility as musicians. Classics such as ‘Take Me Out’, ‘Michael,’’ and ‘Do You Want To’ were combated with a new vigour, and the songs’ popularity and familiarity meant the band could use them as a facet to showcase their ability as musicians.
Though the entire band has incredible talent, it was obvious when watching the quartet live that the backbone behind the band is drummer, Paul Thomson. His complex and interesting drum beats drive every song, and extended drum solos in ‘Turn it On’ and ‘Tell Her Tonight’ had the crowd dancing and clapping furiously. The most interesting drum beat came at the end of the main set in the African-influenced ‘Outsiders’, in which all four members of the band descended upon the drum kit for a fantastic five minute percussion orgy.
With small touches like changing the lyrics in ‘Do You Want To’ from ‘here we are at the transmission party’ to ‘take me to a Yorkshire party,’ front man Alex Kapranos had the crowd going wild and his undeniable charm only enhanced the band’s appeal.
The encore began with a brief keyboard interlude, in which Alex revealed bassist Bob Hardy was Yorkshire-born, gaining the biggest cheer of the night. Much to the joy of older fans the band then proceeded to play classics and ‘Matinee’.
It was at the end of the gig, however, that Franz Ferdinand justified why they are still such a big name in the music scene – and why they still count – as they played their most exciting and innovative track, ‘Lucid Dreams.’ Guitarist/keyboardist Nick McCarthy and Kapranos both left their usual instruments and descended upon the keyboard for a full ten minutes of keyboard bashing, electronica and symbol-based drumbeats. The 02 arena was transformed into what felt like an electro house night, with red strobe lights, gyrating masses and about fifty very confused lackadaisical fans swaying to the synth beats.
Franz Ferdinand have progressed in their sound, but not so much so that they have lost what they’re about. Striking a balance between the familiar and the new is the perennial struggle of the innovative rock band, and whilst Franz Ferdinand are clearly straining to find the sweet spot, last night’s performance showed they might just slam through this transition with sheer bloody-minded musical genius.