21 May 2009

You're What We Came For : Franz Ferdinand at the Roseland, 5/7/09

It's been two weeks since I saw Franz Ferdinand play at the Roseland in New York. It's been four months since their third LP, Tonight: Franz Ferdinand, dropped. Nine months since the radio edit of the first single, "Lucid Dreams," was released. And more than three years since last I'd seen them live at the Hammerstein with Death Cab for Cutie (what odd bedfellows!) and the Cribs. This review is nothing if not a labour of time and space, if not a study in contradictions.

When Tonight dropped, I couldn't find the words to express my own opinions of it. I could regurgitate what the band has said about the record. (That it's the soundtrack to a night out, filled with dance beats and synths and ending with the acoustic fadeout as the morning comes.) I could regurgitate what Pitchfork has to say on the matter. ("More so than stoking the band's current commercial prospects, Tonight is an exciting record for what it could potentially spell for Franz Ferdinand's future...as it turns out, their return is perfectly timed to remind us that, in a world where UK rock is so uninspired the Brits were forced to make superstars out of Kings of Leon, you really can have it so much better.") Or what my brother had to say on the matter. ("There are no guitars! Where'd the guitars go! I miss their post-punk revival sound.") I agree with all of it.

At the end of the day, while the record has grown on me – I can't stop listening to "No You Girls" at the moment, "What She Came For" makes me shout-along happy, the fat bass of "Can't Stop Feeling" no longer feels like a betrayal of the original version – I still find myself feeling ambivalent. Or perhaps apathetic. Franz Ferdinand and You Could Have It So Much Better were chock-full of singles-ready tunes that may not have created a cohesive whole but could certainly stand on their own. This collection seems to run into each other in a blurry, alcohol-fueled rush. But maybe that's what the band was going for.

So it was with equal parts anticipation and ambivalence that I approached my first Franz Ferdinand concert in three years. Nostalgia reigns in memories of April 2006. I was in high-fangirl mode at that time in my life, but had spent so much time and energy fangirling about other bands that, upon seeing Franz Ferdinand play not once but twice in the same day, I felt I was slapped in the face and promptly reminded of how much I fucking love this band. At the most, I was hoping that would happen again; at the worst, I was eager to see how the new electronic-based tunes would be played out live.

Born Ruffians. Warning that these photos are not my best. ie, pretty terrible.

I thoroughly enjoyed openers Born Ruffians' set. My brother, who has seen them several times before, said they were more sedate than usual. I still thought there was a great vibrancy to their set, even without their being balls-to-the-wall. The vocals caught my attention – as if someone’s gone and placed a wailing folk rock singer’s voice, something you might expect coming out of John McCauley of Deer Tick, in a skinny boy in a garage band and let them have at it. Possibly an odd combination, but given my recent reenchantment with vocals à la Deer Tick, I liked it. Point being, would I pay to see them again? Definitely.

Franz Ferdinand

And then, of course, Franz Ferdinand. The show got a bit fancy this time, adding a keyboard / synth set-up right in center stage and a huge light screen behind them, playing trippy video sequences and projected images of the boys, in lieu of the usual banners of themselves. Nick hobbled onstage in crutches to sit at the keys because apparently he’d gone and broken his foot somehow.

The setlist (as seen in that really dark photo above, if you can read it – "Jacqueline" was not played) was a good mix of old and new, not too heavy on any one record if with a slight (and understandable) predilection for the tracks off Tonight. The songs from their self-titled and So Much Better got their post-punk revivalist searing guitar treatment, and the tracks from Tonight were layered with electronics, and so the band bounced back and forth between the two. (Slightly to my chagrin – I wanted to see the new songs played on guitar, too.) My brother pointed out the emphasis placed on Nick McCarthy, who had plenty of time in his own limelight, versus the other times I've seen them – at the end of "Tell Her Tonight," he declared, "That's the first time I've sang that by myself!" Tempo was obviously, and interestingly, played with – songs that are already slow ("Walk Away") got drawn out into near-dirge territory, others that were already fast ("The Fallen") were sped up to the point of rendering it nearly impossible to sing along. "40 Feet" and "Outsiders," at the end of the main set, were tweaked, drawn out, messed with, filled up with sound as Alex Kapranos (still, I maintain, the sexiest rockstar I can think of) had the crowd chanting back to him in call-and-response. And at the end, good old "This Fire," never one of my favourite tracks on record, but a captivating song when played live.

Speaking of the crowd, quelle horreur. I honestly cannot remember a crowd that made me more unhappy than this one, except maybe for that time I saw We Are Scientists at Irving Plaza and the 15-year-olds decided it was time to mosh into me the whole time. Seriously. At one point, I turned to the screaming girls behind me and demanded, "What are you, fourteen?" The guy behind me took upon himself to (unintelligibly) shouting the lyrics. A fight broke out during "Michael." Really. I'm all for enthusiasm, but that was a bit much. Does that make me a stick in the mud?

At the end of the show, I wound up walking away feeling more ambivalent than I had before. It's difficult to determine if I really didn't enjoy the show because I was too bothered by the people around me, or if I simply didn't enjoy the show that much. Maybe it would help to see it again. Maybe I should follow Franz Ferdinand around on tour instead, just to see. Maybe I was just expecting too much of one performance. Maybe it’ll be better next time.

In that case, I should probably get on shelling out the $52 for their November show in Paris.

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