Franz Ferdinand's growing pains spell trouble


September 22, 2005


With its frenetic, high-energy grooves, undeniable hooks and mix of glamorous Roxy Music swagger and no-frills, post-punk minimalism, Franz Ferdinand distinguished itself as the best in the latest "New Wave of New Wave" with last year's self-titled debut and a series of shows that found it rising from sold-out clubs to sold-out theaters.

After the music, what marked those gigs more than anything else was the enthusiasm of the fans, with the entire crowd pogoing up and down throughout the Scottish quartet's performances.

The most obvious sign of trouble during a full but not sold-out show at the Aragon on Tuesday was the absence of that joyful bounce throughout the rather skimpy 45-minute set. When one of the best dance bands on the current rock scene can't get the crowd dancing, something clearly is wrong.

You could chalk this up to the fact that Franz Ferdinand -- which is gearing up to release its second album, "You Could Have It So Much Better," on Oct. 4 -- divided the set list between familiar tracks from the first album ("Jacqueline," "Dark of the Matinee") and new material ("The Fallen," "Do You Want To") from the equally appealing followup, which the majority of fans apparently haven't heard. That's a rarity at a time when everything seems to leak on the Internet, but this reviewer even had difficulty obtaining a pre-release copy of the new disc.

Still, that doesn't explain the lack of pogo action during the older songs, including the band's joyful rendition of its brilliant 2004 hit "Take Me Out."

Guitarist-vocalist Alex Kapranos did his best to project his sizable suavity and considerable cool to the back of the massive venue, though his thick brogue made it impossible to understand a word he said. Stoic bassist Bob Hardy joined machinelike drummer Paul Thomson in keeping the rhythms pumping, while Nick McCarthy remained the group's key musical force, moving between coloring the sound with snaking guitar lines and bubbling synthesizer riffs.

Still, the band's only effort to adapt to the bigger room was a slightly more elaborate stage set, with a red floor, white risers and a somewhat vain backdrop featuring giant blowups of the musicians' faces. It resembled a low-budget take on the White Stripes' similar two-tone stage.

Franz Ferdinand would have been wiser to take a different cue from the White Stripes: On the recent tour in support of its new album, the Detroit duo avoided the Aragon, which it has sold out in the past, in favor of two nights at the more intimate Auditorium Theatre, where its charms and its sound were better appreciated.

The most reasonable explanation for the lack of bounce on Tuesday is that Franz Ferdinand leaped ahead to a venue that it -- and its fans -- just weren't ready for.

The night's opening acts had even less justification for taking the Aragon's stage.

In general, it's a good idea to be wary of groups whose sound can be reduced to a basic recipe. In the case of the Australian trio Cut Copy, it was Suicide mixed with New Order, with entirely too much of the music pre-programmed. For the Seattle quintet Pretty Girls Make Graves, it was Missing Persons combined with Gothic spice, and frontwoman Andrea Zollo wasn't up to the task of cooking that stew before 4,000 listeners.