[20 September 2004]
What a strange experience. Taking in bands at Roseland Ballroom has often made me yearn for the room to grow smaller to make the experience look and sound better. The Delays appeared swamped, even with the drum kit and various Franz Ferdinand paraphernalia adorning the stage alongside them. Greg Gilbert, frontman for the Delays, even looked slightly harried as he used a natural musical break to crouch on either side and at the front of the stage to exchange pleasantries with audience members. By the time Franz Ferdinand appeared on stage, the venue had finally met its match. At this point, the space appeared to be filled with a combination of a) the band’s presence/ego, b) its over-sized heads and c) its writhing groupies.
The Delays have produced some nice shiny, chart-oriented pieces of pop, but on tonight’s evidence, they played them as if these songs didn’t mean as much to them anymore and were delivered with little real conviction. The new U.K. single, “Lost in a Melody”, appeared to wake them out of their stupor. More keyboard than guitar driven, all band members responded positively to this solid rhythmic piece with each musician finally involved in creating a quality sound as a unit. Too often Greg Gilbert threw into the mix an empty series of prolonged falsettos that didn’t seem to go anywhere or add anything, as if lost for ideas. The theme continued with the frontman’s apparent addiction to feedback, used in more than half the tracks of the seven song set, as if it were a new toy that he had finally been given batteries for.
In “Long Time Coming”, a much played summer pop single, Gilbert’s vocal ability was used effectively and certainly soothed a crowd restless for Franz Ferdinand. The penultimate song of the Delays’ set, possibly “Wanderlust”, made the strongest statement that this band want to be more than merely another indie band with foppish hair, a falsetto vocalist and pop-rock aspirations. Featuring a cleverly twisting bassline, set alongside a Jamaican style drum and again a Gilbert falsetto, I would have been happy had the evening ended there.
But it didn’t. Enter Franz Ferdinand. Where to start? The pantomime “falling down backdrop routine” or shall I leap straight into the whole mock adoration of and by its stooges? My honest first impression, and a few friends have asked this as they also enjoyed the album, was embarrassment. I wanted to see and hear Alexander Kapranos and friends, enjoy the show and feel justified in following the hoards of people fawning for a piece of the band. Unfortunately, I must have missed Franz Ferdinand but did get to see a hilarious Spandau Ballet cover band, complete with glossy suits and stylized haircuts.
Let’s start with the music, as it was definitely inspiring enough to make your feet move or your head nod, but you’d better make sure you had rehearsed. The band was audaciously assessing the grooving groupies and at one stage announced “your dancing is getting much better,” or something equally as condescending.
Perhaps the Mercury Music Prize had gone to their collective heads, but Franz Ferdinand very much appeared to believe in and fully endorse the work the band’s highly effective publicists have done. If they had put in as strong a performance as an audience that shrieked, screamed and faked coital climax at every possible moment.
Perhaps it’s rampant over-exposure that stopped me appreciating the half-cocked versions of “Take Me Out” or “Jacqueline”, but I truly wanted to enjoy this and didn’t. So there must be a rational explanation. Did I not understand the album?
My honest belief is that the recorded articles on the album are well-constructed, pop rock tunes that inspire people to dance, albeit in a manner that would/should make shoegazing uncool, if it ever was. The observational lyrics tell stories of seduction, role-play, and voyeurism. Granted, there is an element of the camped up raucousness and sardonic British wit that causes people to make post-punk references, but the album is bulging with good tunes. From disco dirges with staccato guitars, to tinkling piano and Divine Comedy voiceover moments, it all worked and sounded great recorded, but personally watching the men behind the curtain operate their levers and buttons was a disappointing experience.
Live Franz Ferdinand comes across as a disco-foot stomp, guitar-based pop band, performed in the aloof, arrogant manner of a self-professed hipster school master. The “saunter around your stage passing on your learnings” thing has been done, and done better than this lot by Jarvis Cocker. The pseudo intellectual warbling of wiry portentous 20th century boys has also been done much better by countless others. Franz Ferdinand are “like Interpol,” they said. Pah! Franz Ferdinand’s iconic gold on black logo is quite cool, yes. However, it now adorns every street corner, in the same frequency as discarded chewing gum on Manhattan’s sidewalks.