It was 2004.
It was the Astoria.
I listened to Take me Out on a Radio, went to seetickets, and I bought a ticket for Franz Ferdinand straight away. Didn’t know anything about them. Not even that it was a band and not the name of a solo artist.
The album was out around those days and UK had something that had been missing for a while: a proper, good, cheerful art-rock band.
Five years later, Take me Out still stands out as one of the defining song of this decade. Franz Ferdinand, the debut album, is one of the defining album of this decade.
Franz Ferdinand, the band, came out of a Glasgow School of Art, brought Scotland back on track, gave an injection of positive energy to the depressing scene of the second half of the noughties.
This was happening, not accidentally, when the defining band of the first half of the noughties, The Libertines, was morphing into a soap opera. Pete Doherty (more than) Carl Barat decadent romanticism was filling more tabloid pages than concert venues.
Franz Ferdinand blossomed and looked destined to become the biggest band in UK. After the Beatles, Bowie, Roxy Music and Blur they were the heir of the art-rock with a pop, smiling twist.
Franz Ferdinand debut won everything an album can win. The Mercury Prize, some Brit Awards, NME awards and was praised by the critics and the ever growing fans everywhere.
During the following months they underwent the usual promotion stuff. Endless touring and a huge pressure from any direction to release a follow up that had to fulfill the expectations.
The band spent most of 2005 to record You Could Have It So Much Better.
I can still remember piles of CDs in FOPP (a UK record shop) on the Sunday before the release.
If not as refreshing as the debut, which is quite rare after such a successful album, it is still a good work with some great tunes. It has the positive-attitude-with-an-arty edge, courtesy of Rodchenko this time, to which everyone could keep dancing.
While Franz Ferdinand were recording the second album, a singularity was about to perturbing the path of the Scottish band. From Sheffield, with an unprecedented trajectory in the history of British music, the orbit of the Arctic Monkey was about to obscuring every other sun it met.
Arctic Monkeys sold out the Astoria, the venue where I saw Franz Ferdinand first time, even before being signed. When a label convinced Alex Turner to pick up a pen the name on the other half of the contract was Domino, the same label of Franz Ferdinand.
Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, Arctic Monkeys first album, is the fastest selling debut album in UK chart history.
Regardless of mp3, internet, the decline of record industry or any other interfering 21st century device, not the Beatles, not the Stones, not the Oasis managed to sell as many album as the Arctic Monkeys debut. It clocked over 360 thousand copies in the first week. It was early 2006 and brit-pop was changing once again.
Franz Ferdinand after a triumphant tour supporting You Could Have It So Much Better, including a record 4 nights in a row at Alexandra Palace (one of which I was present) had to have a break and understand where to go.
The following break was a long one. Third album announced for ages hasn’t been out until early this year. 2009.
It would be unfair to say that Tonight: Franz Ferdinand is as good as the previous two albums, it is not. It sound as a transition album that tries to glue together the first, happy guitars driven, life of the band, with the next, that still has to delineate but clearly moves towards electro-beats.
There are ideas but they are not mature.
A song stands out, the 7 minutes of Lucid Dreams act as the light at the end of the tunnel which suggests the direction.
I rush to the Brixton Academy on a friday night of October 2009, to see Franz Ferdinand for the third time at their most difficult times.
The hype isn’t there anymore, the decade is ending and the music scene is changing. Either towards electronics or noise-pop, the space for guitar infused brit-pop is narrow.
Six strings are not on fashion anymore, if you don’t adapt either split (Dirty Pretty Things, The Rakes) or announce a break(Bloc Party).
The few space left is for the biggest act which at the moment is the Arctic Monkeys however they sniffed the change too and asked the wizard Josh Homme to help for a new direction. They are not the guys to follow a path but to indicate another, if the attempt has been successful is debatable.
Franz Ferdinand know very well how to put on a concert, how to please the fans and most important how to have fun altogether.
They open with Do You Want To which, in two verses and 20 seconds, gets all the Brixton academy dancing. They won’t stop for the next 15 minutes.
Three album is the perfect number to put on a setlist that doesn’t need fillers.
No You Girls is one of the song David Bowie would write today if he was 25 and Tell Her Tonight from the debut album shows how that stuff is still sounding bloody good.
Can’t Stop Feeling is not one of their best moment and needs This Fire to get the audience back to the dance floor at the rhythm of “burn this city, burn this city”.
Same scheme, Live Alone, one of the future looking, synth infused tracks from Tonight:…, has the synth riff that looks forward, it sounds better live than on record.
The Dark Of The Matinée doesn’t need introduction, it is one of the tracks that will let Franz Ferdinand fill the Brixton Academy for life, whatever they record in the future. Brilliant.
Walk Away darkens the context a bit more but keep the excitement very high, no one will “walk away” but stay for Take Me Out and the apotheosis that follows. Played slightly differently than the original, it is never a good idea to reinterpret your classics if you are not Bob Dylan, still is a great song with that change of tempo and guitar bit that caught me more than five years ago.
Ulysses pays the price of a chorus that goes “La, lalla la la”, which is not my cup of tea but everyone seems to enjoy it, so it’s OK, it’s just me.
Michael has the staccato guitar borrowed from Gang of Four, a key band to Franz Ferdinand‘s music, look, technique, everything.
Turn It On, What She Came For and Outsiders close the main set. On paper they don’t look the best of the closures but live deliver definitely a better effect than when I tried to replay the same sequence at home while writing this.
Back for the encore, the concert has arguably the best moment of the night.
Alex Kapranos arrives solo with his guitar to play Jacqueline’s intro while slowly the rest of the band took place. From the moment the songs burst till the curfew, almost half an hour later, the gig has been pure madness.
They covered All My Friends by LCD Soundsystem and than plunged in that long electronic suite which is Lucid Dreams.
If during the concert at some point I had the sensation that Franz Ferdinand may have made their time, not really because of their fault but because the changing music environment doesn’t suit them anymore, with this song I had to review my ideas. Hypnotic and relentless the four guys delighted the audience with a trip that seemed endless and never had a weak point. Five thousands people dancing to the synth trance lead by Nick McCarthy and followed by the others. Once at a time they stop playing and walk away (this time for real) to come back for the final ovation.
I am convinced the future will give us loads of electronica, I might have to accept synthesizers myself, though.
Clever bands as Franz Ferdinand are leaving telecasters at home, Rodchenko in Russia and opting for Bauhaus design and the Krautrock architectures. They have idea, just need to focus them.
The low key, dub experiment attempted with Blood: Franz Ferdinand, basically a remix album of Tonight: Franz Ferdinand (with the titles of the songs and the order changed) cannot be ignored.
We will see where they go, surely I will go to see them live again. An experience not to be missed.
There is one thing I didn’t like of this gig, the position of the band on stage.
I don’t understand why bands at the Brixton Academy have to stand 4 meters away from the front.
To take pictures of a band so far from the camera, with monitors, cables and empty spaces in the way, is distressing. For fans it is disappointing. Getting there early to grab the front barrier and then realizing your heroes are standing quite away isn’t nice.
True, they move and come to the front (once every so often) to play a solo, but in three songs this happens a couple of times, and the area is very dark. The lights are on the back behind a remote microphone stand.
I don’t like telephoto shots but there was no option. The further I go with my gears is a 200mm prime lens, but i don’t like that lens. So most of the times I have with me my 135mm f/2.8. It is the furthest I go and rarely use it.
It has many pros. It’s light, is still usable at 1/125s with no blur, it is quite fast. If you are firm and the subject doesn’t move too much even at 1/60s gives usable photos.
Wide open (it’s rare to use it at a different aperture than f/2.8 at gigs) has a very short depth of field, be careful on focusing, but the increasing distance between you and the musician helps. Depth of field becomes longer with distance.
The reason I am talking about this lens is also because I am not a fan of zooms. People when thinks at telephoto today desire one of those 70-200mm f/2.8 which are big, heavy and quite expensive.
So, if you need a fast telephoto which will save some different conditions without overdrafting your account search for a 135mm f/2.8 on the market. You won’t be disappointed and the quality often is better than the big zoom. If you work with a cropped sensor it would be even longer.
In the middle age of photography the triad 28mm, 50mm and 135mm was the accepted standard and allowed loads of photographers to shoot most situations. It is still true.