Looking for (art) college, post-punk revival with that slightly camp presence on stage? Ladies and gentlemen, please allow the Strokes to leave quietly through the back door. It’s time to let the real stars take the stage.
Franz Ferdinand might hail from the other side of the channel, but for at least a year they’ve spear-headed the campaign to cement Glasgow’s status as the new capital of pop rock (even ahead of the older Belle & Sebastian).
To be honest, when the Strokes play live it’s a case of “What You Hear on the Record Is What You Get on Stage” (wyhotriwygos—okay, so the acronym doesn’t work). Actually, if their last European tour is any gauge, you get something that’s not quite as good as what’s on the record—perhaps live on stage it’s too technically difficult to sound like you’re singing the lyrics through the phone.
Live, Franz Ferdinand give you more. Listen to the band’s eponymous Mercury-prize winning album just after you’ve seen them live and it sounds somehow hollower than it did before—emptier. Why is this? Although Franz Ferdinand once claimed their intent was simply to make girls dance, they have made both the girls and the grown men think it’s cool to move. And that wasn’t just because the audience was French.
The factors that helped Franz Ferdinand pull the rug from underneath the Strokes for this French audience were threefold. First, Franz Ferdinand didn’t take 45 minutes to come on stage (a French crowd is an impatient one). Second, they didn’t promise to cover a Jacques Brel song only to turn around and say “only joking” (you don’t mess with Jacques Brel over here). Third, after the archduke-stencilled sheet dropped from in front of the stage to reveal Alex Kapranos (vocals, guitar), Nick McCarthy(vocals, guitar) and Robert Hardy (bass) standing in front of Paul Thomson (drums) in a pop-art pastiche of the Charlie’s Angels pose, you knew you were being faced with a band who had given thought to the fact that they were playing in front of a live audience.
There’s no doubt that Franz Ferdinand are slightly campy. The make-up, the quivering legs, and the dress-code (from mod suit to ‘50s shirt) all go some way towards hammering the point home. If you read the band’s biography, it’ll tell you that when McCarthy first met Kapranos, he was dressed like a young Adam Ant. This evening you have to say that Kapranos was more the Ant to McCarthy’s Marco Pirroni. I can overlook this and go as far as to say that I rather enjoyed some of the more pantomime-type performance. Perhaps this is because I come from Britain—Southeast England in fact—and am fully aware that a lot of us are slightly camp. And to be honest, criticising Franz Ferdinand for being too panto is like criticising Bowie for being too cabaret.
Perhaps one criticism I would make would be concerning the over-employed, rhythmically thumping 2/4 beat. If you like marching then this is fine, and a lot of the time it works because it’s borne of rhythms that you wouldn’t expect to lead to, well, marching. If you’re wondering what I’m talking about then listen to the album again, and every time a song gets to the point where you start nodding your head with a serious look on your face and slightly sucked in cheeks, amplify the bass and imagine you’re wearing a military uniform. This phenomenon can be linked to the fact that the bassist only started to learn to play the instrument three years ago. At times it’s very obvious, as after the intro on “Take Me Out”. At others it’s somewhat expected, such as when it kicks in with the chorus on the song “Dark of the Matinee”, given the live environment. But it can also take you by surprise, as in the middle eight on “Auf Achse”.
This is a minor point, however. One of the joys of being up in the balcony at the Zénith is that you can look down on the 3,000 people in the pit doing their damnedest to cause another minor earthquake in Japan. And let’s face it, Franz Ferdinand have been gigging long enough to know exactly what they’re doing. If you’re an old cynic like me, you might cotton on to what they’re doing, but meanwhile the screaming teenage-girls behind you are experiencing their first orgasm.
Even if you are an old cynic, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t get off too. By the time Franz Ferdinand did their finale, a ripping rendition of “This Fire”, I was doing a bit of the old marching-cum-leg-quivering-cum-pouting myself. So if you want to see an act in the throes of establishing themselves as international stars, an act that delivers more than what it says on the tin, an act that can deliver the tune, the slick lyric and ignite the desire to dance in grown men, check out Franz Ferdinand’s current tour. The few new songs will also offer you the promise of something slightly different for the next album. Camp with an edge, perhaps.
One pair that was definitely getting it off on stage were Alison “VV” Mosshart and Jamie “Hotel” Hince, a duo better known as the Kills. One of the show’s three supporting acts, along with the Killers and the Zutons, they offer something different from the White Stripes, and it’s not just the drum machine. Though for me, that was really the icing on the cake. If you told VV that jumping out of said cake would be a true expression of the power of carnal desire over the abstract notion of sex our corrupt Western ideologies have placed higher up in the hierarchy of emotions, then she’d probably do it (yeah, I know, I have the lingo to charm the ladies).
There is a palpable raw energy when the two are on stage, and there are no ambiguities. Their music is like sex: it’s dirty, rough around the edges, and it’s difficult to know if what you’re experiencing is wholly pleasurable. And of course, it’s centered on the phallic guitar that Hotel proffers to a humping mass of female flesh that is VV, as she bends backwards while on her knees, offering herself as if condemned to her inescapable fate. And all this as the feedback resonates halfway between an orgasm and a scream of horror. Perfect. Buy their record if you want to, but make sure you see them live.
The Killers need to get a new sound tekkie and to hone their live skills before playing another big venue. It wasn’t even fun hearing their current UK single, “All the Things That I’ve Done”. Even the live version couldn’t save that song from the god-awful line: “I got soul, but I’m not a soldier.” And when it got to “you know you got to help me out,” I thought they were asking someone to put them out of their misery. If rock music was the Arnold Schwarzenegger ersatz genetic comedy Twins and the genes of rock revivalists were mixed in with those of Gary Numan then The Killers, I’m afraid to say, would turn out to be Danny Devito.
Another huge disappointment was the recent Mercury Prize nominees, the Zutons. I quite enjoyed listening to their album the first time around and you’ve got to say to yourself that any band with a good looking girl on sax has to be worth some personal investment. I honestly thought that in concert they would live up to the cartoon feel some of their tracks and the album’s artwork give off. The novelty of the sax might be a gimmick, but if you take that away then the band’s US-style, hillbilly, ‘70s retro-rock is really disappointing. You might be able to sucker in a young crowd with a bar or two of mediocre close harmonies sung at times a cappella or in the style of the Band’s “The Weight”, but not this wily coyote.