At the Ricoh Coliseum
in Toronto on Tuesday
When the Glaswegian quartet Franz Ferdinand began making waves with its eponymous debut last year, the music press raved about the "return of dance rock" -- a distinction that puzzled readers old enough to remember when all rock was considered danceable.
Specifically, the Ferdinands stood out because much of their music put a beefy disco drumbeat front-and-centre -- so much so that its kinetic energy became the music's dominant quality. Of course, there were other elements as well, most notably a punk-derived tangle of guitars and the occasionally mannered crooning of front man Alex Kapranos, whose fondness for arch observation earned the band more than a few comparisons with Roxy Music.
First impressions aren't always reliable, however, and after watching the band work its way through more recent material (from their just-released sophomore effort, You Could Have It So Much Better) at Toronto's Ricoh Coliseum, a different comparison came to mind: Franz Ferdinand are their generation's Duran Duran.
Musically, the similarities are striking. Both bands have mastered the art of playing dance beats as if they were rock 'n' roll (that is, hard, slightly sloppy and without metronomic precision), and both have personalized a somewhat generic sound through a very personalized sense of style.
The difference is that where the Durannies got their notion of glamour from the Armani-suited slicks in GQ and Details, the Ferdinands take their cues from the hard-partying yobs that inspired the lads' mag aesthetic of Loaded and Maxim. So instead of linen jackets, moussed hair and smooth stage moves, Franz Ferdinand offered shirts and slacks, sweaty enthusiasm and a genuinely casual approach to stagecraft.
Naturally, they felt right at home in Toronto. "I always like coming to Canada," said Kapranos, just before the band launched into a feverishly propulsive rendition of Do You Want To. "It feels like Canada is the Scotland of North America -- and that's a good thing!"
Although the Ricoh was hardly at capacity, with the back of the floor and half the seats empty, there was no shortage of enthusiasm from the fans on hand, many of whom spent the 70-minute show crammed in front of the stage.
After a stiff, somewhat nervous run through Jacqueline, the Ferdinands found their groove with the hip-shaking pulse of Come on Home and proceeded to work said groove for the rest of the evening. Granted, there were still some rough edges -- the guitars were sometimes sloppy, the drummer often played too loud, the band sped up when excited, and the vocals were more than occasionally undecipherable -- but none of them diminished the exuberant charm of Michael, The Fallen or This Boy.
Indeed, it became obvious early on that Franz Ferdinand is one of those rare acts that is actually better live than on album. That was certainly the case with Take Me Out, where the gradual deceleration into the slamming central riff delivered goose bumps in a way the single never could, while The Outsiders was whipped into the sort of drum-driven bacchanal that would have been impossible to capture on disc.
Yes, there was dancing. But more to the point, there was a deep sense of release within the music -- of exulting in the energy and excitement of loud guitars and a hip-shaking beat. Franz Ferdinand isn't exactly re-inventing the wheel here, but when it comes to making rock fun again, they definitely know how to roll.