Life for Franz Ferdinand ain’t too bad. Forming in 2001, the four Scots shot from warehouse parties to arena tours within three years, largely on the strength of one song “Take Me Out”. Perfectly aware of this fortunate circumstance, the band has taken the ride in stride. On each release, they have demonstrated both their trademark aptitude for pop aesthetics and playfulness toward success. Take the video for their latest single, “Do You Want To”, where the group crashes its own haute pop art party while reminding the audience how lucky they are to be, well, there. Less smarmy than just plain silly, Franz Ferdinand not only bake a delicious cake and eat it, too — they invite you to have a slice.
So, consider Franz Ferdinand – Live, the band’s first true entry into the DVD market (their second album, You Could Have It So Much Better came in a limited edition DualDisc format), an arched wink at the fans. Filled primarily with live footage, the two discs offer hours of the group mugging, posing and, of course, rocking. Sure, the second disc, which contains two entire concerts, overlaps with the first disc’s assortment of show footage. And, yeah, there aren’t a lot of bonus trappings, aside from the karaoke tracks, the 30-minute Tour de Franz ‘documentary’ and even more live footage. Nevertheless, Franz Ferdinand – Live captures with precision the Franz Ferdinand experience: Franz, Franz and more Franz.
Few bands can get away with such blatant self-branding. From the tan cover throwing the Franz logo against a faded halcyon backdrop to the spare packaging featuring no credits or insight besides a dramatic b&w of the group bowing at show’s end (of course, from their perspective), the entire package is meant to condense Franzness for your home entertainment. Stacking the discs one on top of the other, the message appears to be: no breaks allowed, just one Franz after the other. Yet, the approach has and continues to work, because the band delivers what their fans want… and so much more!
The live footage alone demonstrates the group’s consistency. Tracking the band through every setting imaginable, from intimate club dates to football field festivals, the band runs through its shtick with unwavering resolve. While audience behavior contrasts depending on venue — the sea of bodies bouncing to “Take Me Out” reminds one of the band’s stadium-friendliness — the band can be counted on to perform: drummer Paul Thomson tames his inner Keith Moon with a disco beat, guitarist Nick McCarthy can’t stop shuffling his feet, bassist Bob Hardy pouts at his work as singer/guitarist Alex Kapranos ogles the girls. Be it at the barely 200-person capacity Piano’s in New York City or under a ginormous tent of tens of thousands in Belgium, the band stays the course. In this manner, the performances are consistent enough that even Disc One’s collection of shows plays like a complete concert.
Admittedly, this accessibility should also be credited to the film direction. With professional film stock and artful close-ups of all your favorite Ferdinands, each performance is treated with true cinematic care. The complete show at Brixton opens dramatically with a quick pan over the crowd before closing in on the band hidden behind a translucent curtain of Archduke Ferdinand’s likeness, their silhouettes pummeling a carpal-tunnel inducing workout of “Michael.” As the curtain rises and the song explodes, the footage goes edit-happy as if in tandem with the strobe show, cutting from close-ups of McCarthy’s guitar to Kapranos’ dramatic vogues. Consider it Last Waltz for the E generation.
While Franz Ferdinand – Live heaps on the live goodness, it skimps noticeably on other features. The karaoke idea, which is pure brilliance, offers cheeky Russ Meyers-ish footage and vintage Japanese lettering (remember where karaoke came from?) to allow fans to get their Franz on at home. However, with only two tracks (“Take Me Out” and “Dark of the Matinee”), you best have some alternate entertainment options. The bonus live footage is mostly hand-cam, home-movie style and interesting only to get backstage views of audience members getting kicked off the stage. Finally, the hilarious Tour de Franz (Franz!) ‘documentary’ pokes fun at the mockumentary as the band loafs about post-show (“What do we do now? Drugs?”), reflects on stardom (“They’re all younger than the students I used to teach”) and writes freelance music reviews (“Tori Amos, Evening Primrose Oil, the closest we’ve felt to being a woman”). Often times, a band member’s natural charm surpasses their onstage persona, making it a shame there isn’t more footage like this. Small irony then that the biggest me-band should forget to give y’all enough me? Oh, but you should be so lucky to even have this much!