It was alarming to think, as the iconic intro to ‘Take Me Out’ filled Electric Brixton, marking the crescendo of Act 4, Scene 1 in the protracted saga that is the existence of Franz Ferdinand, that it is nearly ten years since that jangly indie-rock anthem signalled their arrival onto the musical stage.
That opening act climaxed two albums and several tours later with headline appearances at Leeds and Reading in 2006. With a prolonged absence before the release of their third album in 2009, and sporadic public appearances since then, the band have fallen off the radar a bit. This show is notionally a one-off, but felt like a warm-up for the inevitable tour in support of their new album, 'Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Actions', out next Monday.
Their sporadic popularity was reflected in an oddly mixed crowd - to my left, a man sporting an aspirationally hipster Brooklyn backcomb/beard combo was looking sheepish at being anywhere quite so traditional, even as he wooed his companion, a drunk American girl who couldn’t wait for ‘that song with the guitar bit’. She latched on to my companion and I, loudly noting that our shirts were similar and we must be brothers (cousins, actually). The hipster mouthed ‘sorry, I only just met her’ at me in an apologetic fashion, even as, using both index fingers and one thumb, he made the universally accepted sign to indicate that he was hoping for a closer acquaintance. The rest of the crowd was predominantly students like me, or men of various middle ages, who didn’t quite seem to know how hard to try, but everyone was happy to see them.
Nostalgic cobwebs were swiftly blown away, however. They may have been away for a while, but it took them no time at all to return to their old groove. A harsher critic than I might lean on them for opening with ‘Right Action’, which despite being the title track from the new album, would sit comfortably on any of their past releases, but even so they were impressively tight. Ever the consumate professionals, they looked as if they were genuinely enjoying themselves, which hasn’t always been the case in the past. As they belted out ‘Do You Want To’, guitarist Nick fell into the crowd with the mock bravado of a man who knows he's going to be lovingly caught.
Indie rock’s other legendary Alex, of Arctic Monkeys fame, may be becoming a character actor via the medium of the music video, but Franz frontman Kapranos was always a thesp. If Turner increasingly looks like a man destined to be on a stage, you could be forgiven for thinking Kapranos was born directly onto one. His every move is perfect; his clipped accent and deft gestures all part of an assured stage presence. The band are well rehearsed, but more than that, they seem comfortable, laughing off a slight cock-up in the intro to fan favourite ‘Michael’.
Tracks from the new album were generally well received; ‘Fresh Strawberries’ is the most adventurous departure, and ‘Love Illumination’ has the potential to be ‘The Dark of the Matinée’ all over again; lyrically intriguing and with just the right balance of pop and innovation to get on both Radio 2 and 6music. It’s hardly a revolution, but it shows the band have been doing something in their time off; if it was ‘musical differences’ that prompted the near-split that they only disclosed recently, there’s no sign of them now.
Kapranos couldn't resist his moment in the limelight, quite literally, as he solo'd the intro to 'Jacqueline' in the encore. After ending on new album closer ‘Goodbye Friends and Lovers’ and an exaggerated whole-band bow, he cheekily sprawled into the crowd himself, rather ruining the theatrical finality. But then, the curtain is coming up, not down; even if the new material was overshadowed by the old stuff, this is no preview; it's opening night.
The interval may have been a long one, but it's been worth it. Thanks for waiting and please return to your seats: Franz Ferdinand have returned to the stage.
Franz Ferdinand's new album 'Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Actions' is out on Monday 26th August, you can pre-order it here