Franz Ferdinand: All the Right Grooves

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A renovated movie theater, The Gothic Theater's art deco style fit perfectly with Franz Ferdinand's aesthetic.

Hannah Tooley

Last Monday night, I had an existential crisis, or maybe an existential breakthrough — which was not what I planned when I stepped into The Gothic Theater, in Denver, to see Scottish rock band Franz Ferdinand (no, not the Archduke). I’m a graduating senior, which means I’m supposed to decide my entire future, right now. For the past few months, I’ve felt lost and disillusioned at the prospect of college and careers,  but in the span of a single two-hour show, I think I’ve finally discovered what life is all about.

About a thousand fans packed into the sold-out venue for the much anticipated return of the indie quartet. This was the opening night of their North American tour. Denver provided the first of eight stops in support of their latest album, Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action.

The night started off with opening act Cate le Bon, an excellent Welch singer-songwriter, and then after a 30-minute set change, Franz Ferdinand walked on stage and immediately jumped into their raucous jam, “Bullet”. While the crowd was slow to get comfortable, the runaway beat and tight, raw guitar riffs won over the audience, leaving no choice but to at least get a head bob going. The house lights flashed on the sudden beat drops, allowing the crowd to see the band and the band to see the crowd, each returning the others’ energy in an instant connection.

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They continued with the retro-funk groove “Evil Eye,” which features screaming, minor-toned harmonies, whiny guitars, and some Dr. Doom vibrato, making the track seem like it was pulled straight from a B-movie. This song added a different flavor to the show; though funk isn’t usually something you find on a Franz Ferdinand album,  the rock edge their sound brings still shines through.

“Walk Away” was one of the most introspective songs of the night. With a western-showdown  style guitar, the song contrasts the gentle sweetness of the melody with the mournfulness of the lyric “I love the sound of you walking away”. The live version only added to this juxtaposition, as lead singer Alex Kapranos broke off in the middle of the phrase and let the crowd sing it for him. By the time the last chorus finished, the room was so silent you could hear a pin drop.

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The existential anthem “Fresh Strawberries” compares the life of a human to the life of a strawberry–or maybe it references the Buddhist Zen story about a guy and a tiger and a cliff and a strawberry–whatever the case, this song particularly resonated with my current state with its lyrics “Wouldn’t it be easy with/ Something to believe in that could /Give us more/ Than here’s my work/ So where’s my pay/ To buy what I don’t need?” While I’ve been deciding whether or not to become a slave to the capitalist system, these are some of the questions that have crossed my mind. While the soothing Beatles-like guitar melody and perfect harmonies by rhythm guitarist Nick McCarthy and drummer Paul Thomson may not have provided the showiest spectacle of the night, the song’s lyrical content is enough to make anyone an instant fan.

Just as the heavy drilling guitar sound started to cause a constant buzz in the ears, rhythm guitarist Nick McCarthy jumped over to the keyboards and the band switched into their electronica-tinged repertoire. The softer tune “Brief Encounters” featured a backdrop of twinkling stars, an effect which was amplified by the galaxy painted walls of the theater. The dreamy atmosphere deserved some raised lighters, but I guess the flash of every camera phone was sufficient enough. The slow cha-cha swing beat provided a great moment for synchronized arm waving, showing that even in the quiet moments, the crowd could remain just as enthusiastically engaged.

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The dream-like state continued with the mashup of “Can’t Stop Feeling” and “Auf Achse” and was definitely one of the highlights of the night. It began with McCarthy testing how loud he could turn the synthy keyboards–just below ear splitting–while bassist Bob Hardy started thumping out the line to Donna Summers’ “I Feel Love,” which they used to mash the songs together, in a delightful disco-esque blend.  An entirely bizarre combination that sounds wrong on paper ended up being one of the most artistic moments of the night.

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Then they jumped into “Michael”, switching gears back to full rock-intensity and I lost my damn mind. I can’t accurately depict the actual performance of this song, since I was a little preoccupied, leaping around and whippin’ my hair back and forth. This was the first time I’d truly let go of everything I’d been worrying about, and just got lost in the driving beat. Oh, that glorious homoeroticism, with lyrics like, “Michael you’re the boy with all the leather hips/ sticky hair, sticky hips, stubble on my sticky lips.” But really, isn’t questioning sexuality part of what rock is all about? Lead singer Alex Kapranos also provided the kooky fun of the lyric by tossing saucy eyebrow waggles to audience members, then switched to downright sinister glares which gave that slight tint of danger rock needs. In addition, rhythm guitarist Nick McCarthy was so enthusiastic, I’m pretty sure he might have been walking on top of the crowd at some point. Bassist Bob Hardy and drummer Paul Thomson achieved the tough task of keeping the band afloat amongst all the crazy with their steady beats.

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After everyone’s adrenaline had been sparked, Franz Ferdinand played arguably their biggest hit, “Take Me Out” off their first, self-titled album. The song starts out with a runaway train-like rhythm and simple chord structure before transitioning into a halftime tempo for the shout-worthy chorus, making it seem like a totally new song.  No one in the audience could help but explode; jumping and screaming, while Kapranos and McCarthy performed perfectly synced scissor kicks throughout.

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The song “This Fire” showed off Alex Kapranos’ skills as a frontman and another side of the band’s artistry. The beginning of the song rocked out as usual, but the middle offered a mellow breakdown of the chorus “This fire is outta control/ I’m gonna burn this city, burn this city”. Kapranos had the crowd in the palm of his hand, playing with the edges of his vocal register during the call-and-response with the crowd. It was such a perfect tease; just as it seemed the chant was about to crescendo into the final verse, Kapranos would bring the energy back down to a muted murmur until it finally, finally climaxed into the rest of the song.

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At the end of the set, the audience couldn’t stop screaming, so the band came back for a four-song encore. It started off with the first single “Right Action” from their latest album and the very first song “Jacqueline” on their debut album. Then they launched into the freaks and geeks anthem “Outsiders” complete with a heart-attack inducing drum quartet; each member grabbed a pair of drumsticks to beat out some rhythms with drummer Paul Thomson on his drum set.

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Finally, the last song, “Goodbye Lovers and Friends” added a sentimental end to a euphoric evening. While the song describes someone speaking from the afterlife about their funeral, it was a suitable thematic end to the concert, especially with the final lyrics,  “Goodbye lovers and friends/ you can laugh as if/ we’re still together/ but this really is the end.”

At some point during the encore, a fan in the pit yelled “Victory!” or maybe it was “Do Me!” but really, what difference was there? All I could feel was the palpable joy in the air, from the glowing faces of the crowd, to the drinks raised in gratuitous salute, and the satisfied smiles of the band. In a two-hour time span, I just felt so freaking happy, reinforcing the fact that life is meant to be lived and we are meant to love. I’m no longer afraid of where my next decisions will take me, whether that means dedicating myself to a four-year university or traveling around in my hippie-van stalking celebs. I’ve learned that music is cathartic, which is probably why I acted so crazy and felt the need to apologize to everyone within a 5-foot radius.

Thanks to Franz, I’ve figured out what the next step in life is for me. More than the hours spent researching careers and applying for colleges, I need to do what makes me happy. For me, that may mean becoming a groupie so I can feel that energy high every night. Though I can’t guarantee that Franz Ferdinand will cause you to re-evaluate your life choices, if you want a taste of Cloud 9, check out their next concert ASAP — before it really is the end.

By Hannah Tooley

Check out their website to find a concert near you, and please check out my review of Muse from earlier this year to experience more of my incessant fan-girling I somehow get a grade for.