First Night: Franz Ferdinand, Kentish Town Forum, London

Alex shows that he can take on the Kaisers
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The Independent Culture

An interesting battle of the new-wave pop giants is being lined up for the Reading Festival this weekend. In the penultimate slot tomorrow, there is Kaiser Chiefs, whose brash, good humoured anthemics are well tooled for mass participation.

And in the headline slot, there's Franz Ferdinand, the dapper, cool-as-cream art-school band, led by arguably the leanest part-time food critic for a national daily - they have the vote of the critics and style magazines, but they'll have their work cut out before thousands of Kaisers fans.

Still, Franz's singer, Alex Kapranos, is pitching their Reading slot as a celebration of his band's past two years. They've done much of note in a short time, too. Primarily, in the absence of Pulp, they've reminded music fans that pop music can be stylish, saucy, danceable and briskly intelligent simultaneously. They even knocked out a second album in about a year, which is more than you can say for such famously slow 1990s bands such as The Stone Roses. You Can Have It So Much Better is a pretty good album, too, albeit one that spotlights Franz's strengths and weaknesses.

It consolidates their debut album's virtues with a sprinkling of genuine confidence, a dash of cynicism and a panache of Morrissey-ish drama.

However, it's very similar to their debut suggesting that their efficient early breakthrough may be succumbing to holding-pattern status.

Tonight's Reading warm-up concert is a good case for their defence, though. They arrive in a flurry, suited, pointy-booted and ready for business, skipping excitedly around the stage. "This Boy" is dispatched in an exhilarating clatter. "Come On Home" follows with high kicks, urgency and sing-along. "Do You Want To" crowns the entrance gloriously, ploughing through any reservations with strident, cock-sure arrogance.

Most impressively, the opening salvo plays like a greatest hits set. "Tell Her Tonight" is all adenoidal angle and poise, bristling with melodious urgency and duelling guitars. From there, it is a short step until the floor starts bouncing for the dramatic lewdery of "The Dark of the Matinee".

Kapranos is a dynamic frontman, too. A little bit show business, a little bit inde-bloke, he rescues "Walk Away" from the interruption of a crowd surfer with a few well-timed quips and raised eyebrows.

Their breakthrough hit, "Take Me Out", comes surprisingly early and sets the downstairs section alight. They don't just sing-along to the words; they sing-along to the guitar riff.

Franz excel at marrying busyness with great immediacy. "The Fallen" wraps itself around a tangle of energised guitar, with at least two killer-choruses. At their worst though the guitars bristle and fidget in search of a tune.

But that's a minor gripe. Granted, if we could have it so much better Franz will have to show us how, rather than merely tell us, on their third album. Meanwhile, tonight's bouncing floor suggests that Reading could well be theirs for the taking.

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