Alex Kapranos, Franz Ferdinand, Groningen 2018I don’t like listening to the same kind of music over and over again. Especially I don’t need tons of bands that all sound more or less the same. On the contrary, I’m always searching for new sounds and things I haven’t heard before, bands that surprise and impress me. Which gets difficult after a while if you just stay within the boundaries of one specific subgenre. This is basically the reason why I told you about all those extreme metal bands in my recent posts and am now writing about this funny old britrock band. You might think my musical taste must be completely random, but it’s rather that over the years it has slowly and gradually drifted through the rock and metal subgenres, starting with indie and britrock and more than a decade later arriving at death and black metal. Bands like Rotting Christ and Carach Angren are some of the last links in this chain so far – Franz Ferdinand were among the first.

Naturally, on a musical journey like this, favourite bands come and go. Just like my interest in a specific (sub)genre might fade after some time, my interest for bands I have loved for a while fades too. However – some bands stay forever. I found out over the years that if I just love a band enough (and believe me, I’m able to get very passionate about certain bands…), the love for the band, their music and their specific characteristics is much stronger than the love for the genre or the style they represent. This is especially crucial with bands that change their sound a lot over time, like Muse for example. Of course many of the songs Muse release nowadays have little to do with the progressive artsy rock band they once were, but if they release a cheesy pop song now, I don’t just dismiss it immediately like I would dismiss most other cheesy pop songs, but approach it with an open mind (…and usually I find I actually like it, at least a bit… because I mean come on, it’s fucking Muse!). So that’s how this weird mix of my musical interest has grown – there are the current favourites (the metal stuff), and there are the survivers of the past.

Franz Ferdinand, Groningen 2018I discovered Franz Ferdinand 14 years ago, right after I had found out about the actual existence of music outside the mainstream pop stuff that was played on the radio (I know there are countries where rock and metal is played on the radio too… Not in Germany though…). So one day, when my dad was going into town and asked me if he should bring me something from the media store, I didn’t ask for the newest Bravo Hits (charts compilation sampler) as usual, but for Franz Ferdinand’s just released debut album. It’s safe to say that this day changed a lot for me, because it was my first step into the direction I’ve been following since then. And of all the bands I discovered back then, FF is the only one I still listen to today, so there’s no other band to which I’ve been listening to for as long as to Franz Ferdinand. I was 14 when I found them, and I’m 28 now, which makes half of my life with this band…

The last years have been a bit quiet though. Since 2014, they have only done a collaboration album with the ancient synth pop duo Sparks (as FFS), which they hardly brought to German stages, and then disappeared from the radar for a while. But they are back now, with two new members (because it takes two to replace the one and only Nick McCarthy 😉), and the new album Always Ascending, which is a bit more calm and less energetic than earlier albums, a bit more mid-tempo and a bit less up-tempo, but still has the trademark Franz Ferdinand sound, except for Nick’s incomparable backing vocals of course. If you are willing to invest some time to get into the songs, you can discover lots of great songwriting on this album… still, you can hear in the sound that the guys aren’t twenty-something anymore. (Which is fine, because I’m not 14 anymore either!) Circumstances didn’t allow me to travel as much and as far on this tour as I used to, but at least I found myself at the gigs in Hamburg and Groningen.

Alex Kapranos, Franz Ferdinand, Hamburg 2018Hamburg first. The gig started amazing, the band as dark figures against a huge video screen, and with now four able singers in the band (lead singer Alex Kapranos and drummer Paul Thompson, plus the two new members Dino Bardot and Julian Corrie), they performed a stunning vocal arrangement of the intro of Always Ascending. Speaking of Dino and Julian, they proved to be great additions to the band, because besides the backing vocals, the fact that FF now have a full time guitarist AND a keyboardist/occasional guitarist in the band (instead of having Nick switch between the two instruments next to Alex playing guitar all the time) offers a whole bunch of new opportunities: Pimping the sound by adding keys to songs that have only been performed by two guitars so far; having the power of three guitars at the same time sometimes; allowing Alex to put his guitar away for a few songs and to focus on his vocals instead – and to show off his whole repertoire of dance moves which are just as weird as his outfits. In those moments you could notice that the FFS times have left some traces in the band after all, if you didn’t hear that in the sound already…

Paul Thompson, Franz Ferdinand, Groningen 2018And still, I hate to say it, but the concert in Hamburg was a huge disappointment. First of all, the sound wasn’t that good, especially the guitars sounded very flat and had absolutely no energy. The groove of Bob Hardy’s bass saved a little bit, and Alex’ deep, warm voice was stunning as always, but still. Second, on quite a few songs, the band was actually out of sync. I don’t know what exactly went wrong, I’m very hesitant to blame it just on one person, but to me it simply sounded like Paul was having a very bad day. Sometimes he was dragging behind, sometimes he played a very unsteady beat so that the rest of the band was given a hard time playing along. The result were drums that were out of sync with the rest of the band, or a whole band that went swimming. It didn’t happen on every song, in fact probably on less than half of them, but when it happened, it sounded so horrible that it ruined the overall impression of the whole gig. I don’t remember ever hearing something like that, at least not from a band on the level of Franz Ferdinand…

Julian Corrie, Franz Ferdinand, Hamburg 2018But they made up for it in Groningen! Whatever faith in this band I had lost in Hamburg was restored here. No problems with sync and beat at all, and the sound was cool too. There they were, the edgy Franz guitars that give you a huge energy kick in the butt, automatically make you jump up and down and bring all the fun to the show. And apparently the band were enjoying themselves too, which is always a good sign. Although performance-wise, neither Dino nor Julian managed to be such a strong counterpart to Alex as Nick had been. They did fine, they were present and of course a lot more active than Bob, who seems to get better and better at making himself almost invisible (no  offense, that’s why we love him, right?), but I felt like the focus of the attention was now more than ever solely on Alex. And just like with the sound of the album, you could see in the performance too that he is not a young boy anymore. Sure, I already mentioned his guitar-less dancing, and he still showed some of his signature leg-spread jumps, but overall there was much less jumping than in the past and his movements looked a bit more stiff. You might think I am complaining, but actually I am not! I’m rather positively impressed that Franz Ferdinand have found a way of ageing with dignity. They have maintained their style, but developed and progressed it enough to make it suitable for grown-up men in their fourties, and not to repeat themselves. It is the only way to stay relevant as a band, especially now that this so called ‘new wave of britrock’ of the ’00s, which FF helped kick off, has long ago subsided.

Dino Bardot, Franz Ferdinand, Hamburg 2018….aaand to end this rather long report, here I am back to complaining again, just a little bit: Like I just said, Franz Ferdinand have never just stuck to the success of their early days, they have always moved on and developed their sound. Each of their five albums sounds different. That’s why I was very surprised that the setlist was very unbalanced. They played eight songs from the new album (which is great, apparently they are happy and comfortable with their latest work), but the rest of the songs were mostly songs from the first two albums. Very few songs came from the third and fourth album. So, I hate when a band turns into a sort of nostalgia act that bases their shows only on the hits they had centuries ago, and FF just saved themselves from this by playing so many new songs – still I would have preferred if they had covered their career a bit more equitably. Even though you can’t blame them for keeping songs like Do You Want To, Take Me Out or This Fire in the set, because they are the ones that are guaranteed to make the crowd move… but yeah. Progress, staying relevant, and so on, remember?

Alex Kapranos, Franz Ferdinand, Groningen 2018All in all I still left the gigs as a very happy girl. To close in on what I said earlier – if you have loved a band for 14 years, you are willing to forgive them a lot. For example a change of sound (which I’m not only forgiving but actually embracing), an at least discussable setlist, and even a totally fucked up gig. And since I criticized so much in this review, I wanna emphasize again that they really really gave us a great gig in Groningen (and in parts in Hamburg too!), which had everything you’d expect and wish from a Franz Ferdinand concert. I just hope they won’t take several years again until they grace us with another tour!

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