Gig Review and Photography by John Bentley

Franz Ferdinand, Birmingham O2, 21-3-14

The name Franz Ferdinand is extremely poignant this year, with the assassination of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Serbia in 1914 being the spark that ignited the First World War. However, it’s unlikely that this historic event is foremost in anyone’s mind tonight, as we wait for the arrival onstage of art school dancefloor-filling indie rock maestros Franz Ferdinand.

Franz Ferdinand, Birmingham O2, 21-3-14

Ten years into their career and with their fourth album released in 2013, FF have taken spiky guitar rock into new territory, with their snappily-paced songs, exuding intelligence as well as pop sensibility. Their latest album, ‘Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action’, has been generally hailed as a return to traditional form after 2009’s more experimental ‘Tonight’. Not that ‘Tonight’ is a bad album, in retrospect, as the joyous performance of songs like ‘No You Girls’ and ‘Ulysses’ testifies this evening.

Franz Ferdinand, Birmingham O2, 21-3-14

From the outset it’s clear that this is going to be a killer gig. The band take to the elaborate stage in triumphal mode, dressed in individually fashioned outfits that seem to take on board several early 20th century art movements at one go. They launch into the frantic ‘Bullet’, a killer track from the new album. Then they drop in old faves ‘The Dark of the Matinée’ and ‘Tell Her Tonight’ from the debut album and the audience start to go nuts. By the time we get to second album favourite ‘Do You Want To’ the crowd is really singing along, arms are waving in the air and bodies are being surfed overhead. It really just cannot go wrong from now on. The pace doesn’t slacken, as we race through a well-selected whole career-embracing set.

Franz Ferdinand, Birmingham O2, 21-3-14

The new album songs do really sound good and interesting and hold up against the older material throughout. The vocals on ‘Stand on the Horizon’ sound a little like the early Beatles and the rhythm guitar is pretty funky. ‘Fresh Strawberries’ live has more punch than the recorded version. ‘Brief Encounter’ has a kind of bouncy oompah vibe, reminiscent of electro-popsters Sparks.

Franz Ferdinand, Birmingham O2, 21-3-14

‘Take Me Out’, with its insistent chugging guitar rhythm, gets one of the biggest receptions of the evening and takes the audience’s bouncing to the maximum setting of 11 on the dial. The main set finishes on a real high with an infectiously funky ‘Ulysses’, before the band return for a four song encore. ‘This Fire’ is an enjoyable extended workout of the debut album classic. FF obviously have great confidence in the new material, as the encore features three of its songs. One of the most impressive new numbers is the oddly titled ‘Treason! Animals’, which really rocks and features delightful bleeping retro keyboard from Nick McCarthy. The closer, ‘Goodbye Lovers and Friends’, intriguingly slips in some of Jonathan Richman’s ‘Egyptian Reggae’.

Franz Ferdinand, Birmingham O2, 21-3-14

So the evening proves to be a triumphant return of a dynamic and confident Franz Ferdinand, playing a polished and diverse set. Frontman Alex Kapranos is truly charismatic (and a bit of a diva) and the band are clearly enjoying themselves on stage. The musicianship is second to none and the sound quality is clear, but nice and punchy. “You’ve been fantastic” says Alex, as the four band members line up and take a bow. You’ve been pretty good too, FF.

Franz Ferdinand, Birmingham O2, 21-3-14

Setlist: Bullet; The Dark of the Matinée; Tell Her Tonight; Evil Eye; Do You Want To; No You Girls; Fresh Strawberries; Walk Away; Stand on the Horizon; Can’t Stop Feeling / Auf Achse; Brief Encounters; The Fallen; Take Me Out; Love Illumination; Darts of Pleasure; Michael; Ulysses. Encore: Right Action; Treason! Animals; This Fire; Goodbye Lovers & Friends.

Franz Ferdinand, Birmingham O2, 21-3-14

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