Review and Photos by Iain Fox | @IainFoxPhoto
It’s a peculiar vagary of the musical landscape when a new record and tour from Glasgow rockers Franz Ferdinand appears to represent a return to an era that disappeared with the Motorola Razr. In fact, new record Always Ascending demonstrates something that the band have always done; nod heads to their Brit-Pop origins as they explore a creative propensity for more disco-oriented operatics that feel more at home in this particular decade then ever before perhaps. With an older demographic in attendance tonight, the question is whether fans who have been there since the beginning will appreciate this more tangible departure from the angular guitar-led anthems of their past.
Warming up the sold-out audience at Manchester’s evocative Albert Hall this evening is one quarter of one of the most iconic bands in the world. The Strokes may have propelled Albert Hammond Jr. into the musical stratosphere in 2001, but during the last twelve years the Californian has been quietly amassing a collection of equally distinctive songs that he’s been bringing to Manchester’s smaller club venues for several years now.
The support slot on the Franz Ferdinand run of UK shows provides a wonderful opportunity to take in some of the choicest cuts from Albert’s lean new record Francis Trouble, due for release very soon. They certainly don’t disappoint! Albert’s always demonstrated a satisfying leaning towards a particularly British brand of rock and roll on his records, whether that’s a liberal sprinkling of punk or a heady dose of ska, but tracks like Far Away Truths and Muted Beatings are perhaps less reliant on these markers, instead allowing his own distinctive pedigree to inform his own lacerating guitar-led melodies. The forty minute set also provides ample opportunity to revisit highlights from earlier records as well, including the skittish Holiday from his debut, the brilliant GfC from sophomore release ¿Como Te Llama? and personal favourite, Strange Tidings from the spiky EP AHJ and they are all performed with typically nonchalant cool, occasionally punctuated by brutal bouts of animated industry that is a joy to watch.
Franz Ferdinand not only have a new album but a new lineup and decide to introduce both with opening track Paper Cages. A risky song to open with perhaps, considering many would not be acquainted with the new material yet, but it signals to us all that this is far from a stale ‘best of’ tour. This slow-burning opening evaporates the instant the opening strains of Do You Want To ring out however, and Albert Hall jumps to the rhythm as one before being beguiled by the synth-rich tones of Lazy Boy which transform into a marching riff that wouldn’t be out of place in a spaghetti western. The track demonstrates the band’s propensity for creating epic anthems that we can sing back to and as if to demonstrate this, No You Girls and The Dark of the Matinée quickly follow, completing a hugely satisfying opening salvo; it’s fair to say, the setlist this evening is pretty much spot on, allowing old and new fans to appreciate the evolution of their sound rather than simply dwelling on original glories.
Although crowd participation understandably dips during the many visits to Always Ascending, these songs are always utterly appreciated and when the more contemplative Slow Don’t Kill Me Slow is performed for the very first time, the Manchester crowd are totally respectful throughout and completely appreciative upon its conclusion. The crowd’s deference is rewarded during these moments with several returns to the iconic songs that have defined this band and after Alex Kapranos’ brief introduction, Michael’s piercing guitars puncture the sobriety of the previous track in brutally thrilling fashion. The wonderful ebb and flow of this evening’s performance still seems to be heading in a particular direction however and it is no surprise to hear the distinctive strains of Take Me Out eventually emerge, accompanied by a bounding, bouncing band, leading the rest of the crowd to join in during the iconic chorus.
During all of these wonderful shifts through the gears, Alex Kapranos shock of freshly bleached blonde hair is rarely lying flat; the kinetic energy of the evening is certainly a joy to behold, demonstrating that a band so rigidly ensconced within a particular musical era can still boldly reinvent themselves and have fun doing it.
Albert Hammond Jr.
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