Tim Burgess, Cockpit, Leeds<br></br>Franz Ferdinand, ICA, London

Wonderland to la-la land
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The Independent Culture

Jack of all trades, he is. We know there's a second half to that phrase, but Tim Burgess hasn't heard it. This man - wrongly, but not heinously so - believes he can turn his hands to anything (tonight's set even includes an extended dub reggae jam in the form of Bob Marley's "Who The Cap Fit").

The Charlatans have always been circumscribed by their own limits; a band to like rather than love (I, for one, would never ever characterise myself as a fan, but every time I see them, they catch me unawares, admitting to myself that there is something there to cherish).

For his solo foray, Tim Burgess - who still looks so young and pretty you could murder him - has blithely opted to sail too close to the sun, and went where the sun is: California. Living in Hollywood for the last two years, he's made an album, I Believe, which is even more American-sounding than The Charlatans' country-rocking seventh album, Wonderland.

Just in case we missed the point, the clues are everywhere. For his CD booklet, he dressed up as Gram Parsons and posed in the Joshua Tree national park. Tonight, he's wearing a T-shirt which reads "Hi Y'All! Atlanta". When he takes off his battered leather jacket, star tattoos are visible on one arm (are there stripes on the other?). His backing band are called The California Angels, and one of them, the multi-instrumentalist guitar/ bongo/ trumpet/ keyboard guy, sports a stetson. Yes Tim, we get it.

When he tries to be clever - "I believe in a ghetto for the poor" (wha?) - he stumbles. But there's something simple and sweet, naïve and childlike about Burgess which carries him through.

It's some sort of testament to his solo material that tonight - under a low-arched ceiling in the pelting Yorkshire rain - these qualities still shine. Oblivious to heckles for Charlies songs (he placates them with "Life Is Sweet", the Chemical Brothers hit he sang on), he bashes his tambourine and sings in a feathery falsetto which just about holds up throughout. Whatever anyone else thinks, he believes.

"War Breaks Out Across Europe - Death Of Archduke Franz Ferdinand Somehow Involved". This classic headline from The Onion's Our Dumb Century book is enough to make any A-level History student shudder in partial recall of the labyrinthine network of treaties and allegiances which meant that when the young Serb, Gavrilo Princip, assassinated the Austro-Hungarian royal, the continent was plunged into the First World War.

Maybe it's just a name. But by calling themselves after him, Franz Ferdinand, the much-hyped Glasgow four-piece (the phrase "new Strokes" has, yet again, been tossed around), already let you know that they are not to be taken lightly.

Side partings straight out of a Leni Riefenstahl, striped grandad shirts buttoned all the way up, they stride imperiously onstage with jerky new wave movements, and let loose a hailstorm of charcoal-grey minor chords, while Sixties thrillers and vintage holiday movies play on the back wall. Franz Ferdinand are in tune with the New Seriousness that's at large: see also Interpol and BSP (indeed I keep wanting to call them Scottish Sea Power).

They're impressively tight - lots of sudden halts - and consciously uptight: "Take Me Out" is The Rapture for people who don't really want to dance; another song contains white reggae rhythms which couldn't be less irie if they tried, in that specifically early Eighties way (qv Bauhaus's "She's In Parties").

Singer Alex Kapranos - who is bonily (rather than bonnily) handsome, like Robert Carlyle in Face - is evidently Germanophile ("Ich bin herr Super Fantastich!", he quotably sings on debut single "Darts Of Pleasure"), and not lacking in self-assurance: on "Shopping For Blood", he declares "I am the new Scottish gentry", à la Mark E Smith.

Other comparisons are Postcard Records (Josef K, Orange Juice), The Monochrome Set and Joy Division, and you can throw in a bit of currently-voguish Cure yelping whenever guitarist Nick McCarthy takes over vocals. But Franz Ferdinand are good enough to transcend the spot-the-influence game, offering - in their own self-aware, supernaturally confident words - "a night of dark fantastic passion".


Franz Ferdinand: Fez Club, Sheffield (0114 279 7997), Wed; Zodiac 2, Oxford (01865 420042), Thur; Carling Academy 2, Liverpool (0870 771 2000), Fri