Franz Ferdinand, Heaven, Under the Arches, London
Old favourites keep Franz's fans frenzied
Thursday 22 January 2009
Alex Kapranos can sate an audience's appetite before he's opened his mouth. There is the tight plaid shirt, rolled up neatly to just above the elbow. There are the snug, well-fitted jeans. There is the hair, austerely clipped on the sides and tussled on top. The image is finished with his guitar, which he hugs to his sternum. When the need arises, this trademark Fender Telecaster Deluxe is flung to one side, or the strap shed so that Kapranos can hold his instrument aloft with one hand, or when his mood surges to a higher level of showmanship, pluck behind his head.
He finishes this with a well-practised volley of moves. Tonight one of his favourites is a cruciform yawn of the arms like he's art-rock's answer to Jesus. Another typical manoeuvre might be for him to archly eye up the audience sideways on, take a deft hop of a retreat and then wag his finger at them, all while shimmying in a manner that would make Brett Anderson blush.
Remembering such a detailed description of a man's appearance and whereabouts on stage over the course of one-and-a-half hours makes you sound like one of the group's lyrics. This is a man, after all, who built his career on knowing glances at Glasgow's art scene, unafraid to bask in the delight of a drunken male crush, set against rhythms he and fellow guitarist Nick McCarthy hoped would one day make girls dance.
They do this tonight, and if this were simply a review of the performance itself, then Franz Ferdinand would sail to unequivocal victory. Having honed their repertoire since first topping the charts with "Take Me Out" in January 2004, Kapranos is carried along by the strength of his charisma and the warm recognition prompted by the band's best-known songs.
But the most significant reason for the gig is to preview the group's latest album, Tonight: Franz Ferdinand, released next week and the first since 2005's You Could Have It So Much Better. As the quartet moves through its set list you feel like the new material falls on comparatively unconvinced ears. Apart from "Ulysses", which, one might argue, is the band doing what they do, only not as well as usual, people are hanging on for the instantly recognisable riffs of "Take Me Out", "Do You Want To?", "Walk Away" and "Michael".
They start with a new song, "No You Girls" ("Kiss me where your eye won't meet me; "Meet me where your mind won't kiss me"). It boasts a crowd-pleasing chorus, essentially an ironic (we hope) paean to how great girls are. It is unclear where the influence of Brian Higgins, the pop maestro behind Girls Aloud, might have come in. Higgins was fired as producer early on in the record's gestation, the band claiming "We're not really a pop group," although that displays a lack of self-awareness. If the chorus to "No You Girls" ("No you girls never know how you make a boy feel") is earnest, it doesn't put enough distance between them and Sarah Harding et al banging out "Call the Shots". Also taken from Tonight are "Send Him Away", the more cerebral "Live Alone", and the bouncily rhythmic "What She Came For", which takes a pop at the banal questions of journalists.
The encore was the clear highlight, "Outsiders" and "This Fire" being drawn out to whisk up the crowd. In the former, the four members of Franz Ferdinand and their drum technician cluster around drummer Paul Thomson's kit to wallop away in a unified hullabaloo that builds to a hip-dislocating climax. It is unclear how far Tonight will take the band over the next year. But as long as their back catalogue struts along unawares, plenty will want to join them on at least the first part of the journey.
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