Franz Ferdinand

Phil Dore 08/02/2004

Franz Ferdinand prove one simple thing: I know nothing.

How so? Last year I went to see Franz Ferdinand play in Cardiff Barfly, the local indie toilet. I met them afterwards, chatted to them, persuaded them to sign my Darts of Pleasure CD, and then I went home.

As I strolled home, I pondered the band I'd just seen. “Good band,” I thought. “Nice blokes too. Not very commercial though. Hype or no hype, they'll probably just stay a small indie underground thing.

A matter of weeks later, Take Me Out crashed into number 3 in the UK singles chart, kept off the top spot only by the admittedly-very-deserving single by Kelis and the rather less deserving single by The Fat Munter Who You All Only Voted For to Wipe the Grin Off Simon Cowell's Smug Face.

So, what have we learned from this? We've learned that I know nothing. I have no concept of what will succeed and what will not. If I make a prediction, go out and place a bet on the opposite happening. It's not an isolated incident either. I'm the guy who saw Coldplay supporting Idlewild in March 2000 and said, “My God, they were dreary. Don't think we'll be hearing from that sorry shower again.”

Perhaps I'm being too hard on myself. I can't be the only person who didn't see Franz Ferdinand's sudden success coming. After all, how else can you explain their ranking on the NME Awards Tour, booked some time before they became top ten material? Not only are they not the headliners, but they're the opening band in a line-up made up of Detroit alt-rockers (and occasional Jack White punch bags) the Von Bondies, up-and-coming indie funksters the Raptures, and….oh boy, here comes the unforgivable part. The headliners are utterly dreadful tune-allergic emo nonentities Funeral for a Friend. Still, based on my track record, they'll probably be headlining stadiums this time next month.

That said, if Franz Ferdinand are bitter about being relegated to a placing on the bill that's totally in inverse proportion to their commercial success, they certainly aren't showing it. Nor do the crowd seem all that deterred by being forced to make sure they get in early. Franz Ferdinand get a rapturous welcome, even from the teenaged Funeral for a Friend fan-oiks in Linkin Park/Less than Jake shirts.

After seeing them before in such a small venue, it's instructive to see how they fare in suddenly graduating up to medium-sized venues, not only on this tour but in anticipation of the coming months, when they'll be starting the headlining tour that more befits their new status. And the answer is that they make the transition with ease, commanding the stage with an easy affability that charms the crowd, who go absolutely ape-shit bonkers as soon as the band play Take Me Out, with its insanely infectious guitar riffing. At the spearhead of the charm offensive is singer/guitarist Alex Kapranos, who pays homage to his tour mates with a slow strip-tease that takes place over the course of the show, whereby he removes his shirt to reveal a Funeral for a Friend t-shirt, which is later removed to display a The Raptures t-shirt underneath. A few songs on, this too is removed, unveiling, yes, a Von Bondies t-shirt under it. Finally, at the end of the set, he removes the Von Bondies shirt, showing the crowd the words “Franz Ferdinand” painted across his bare chest. At this point Jason Stollsteimer and Marcie Bolan of the Von Bondies are dragged onstage to sing the “Iche heisse Superfantastische…” refrains in Darts of Pleasure, the beginning of a recurring theme for the night, as the bands take to invading each others' sets over the course of the evening.

Franz Ferdinand have set themselves on a mission to prove that making music that makes you think and making music that makes you dance aren't mutually exclusive. Of course, everybody knew that you couldn't combine the two. Everyone that is, except Franz Ferdinand, who went on to prove us all wrong. And that's why they're the most essential new band of 2004 and why I know nothing.