Franz Ferdinand is my uncle's favorite band. They might be your uncle's favorite band. About five years ago, they were my sister's favorite band -- probably yours too. That was when Franz Ferdinand released "the song." You know -- "THE SONG." That moment of leyden jar lightning when circumstance and serendipity collides to produce a classic cut that propels a band to fame, fortune, the Top of the Pops, the ability to place obscure drugs like Ibogaine on a rider (and actually receive them).
In Franz's case, THE SONG was "Take Me Out," a funky guitar stomp with a mid-air agility that even Kobe Bryant would envy--the sort of tune ostensibly shifting with the whims of the wind, but actually revealing a wholly formed mastery of song-craft. Suddenly, a relatively unknown band of Glaswegians catapulted to that proverbial next level, winning the Mercury Prize, NME's Band of the Year award, a handful of Grammy nominations, and the rare distinction of becoming both the darling of the hipster nation and the Uncle's of America (a venerable institution controlled by Uncle Scrooge, Uncle Jesse, and Unkle).
Yet the nature of the post-Internet pop world has made being both blog darlings and mainstream delights a mutually exclusive enterprise. Ask your average Echo Parker what they think of the Strokes, the Arcade Fire, or Franz Ferdinand, and you'll probably be met with a wrinkled brow, a wrinkled shirt, and the imputation that your musical taste is somehow stranded in Bush's first term. After all, the cool kids have moved onto chillwave, or glo-fi, a promising but embarrassingly named sub-genre best embodied by the band Neon Indian -- the name stays in the picture.
To people who treat bands like baseball cards, Franz Ferdinand are Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. rookies: The thrill is gone, the masses have been appraised, they're no longer your little secret. And consequently, their show at the Palladium on Thursday night was suspiciously devoid of anyone with a beard, a flannel, and a vinyl copy of the Dirty Projectors' Bitte Orca. The room was packed, albeit with former sorority girls, the KROQ crowd, your uncle, my uncle, and quite a few of our aunts. After all, lead singer Alex Kapranos is a smooth operator (word to Sade).
Of course, Franz no longer need the praise of Pitchfork and the polite but unenthusiastic blogs, whose 2004 fervor has dimmed so much that were you exclusively wired to the Hype Machine, you'd be hard-pressed to know that Tonight: Franz Ferdinand was released in January. Besides, Green Day just brought them on tour, and bafflingly enough, Green Day remain insanely popular. Who knew? And yet, the Scottish four-piece don't need Billie Jo & Co. either -- by now, they're in the top tier of the increasingly thin ranks of popular rock bands that don't cater to the lowest common denominator (read: Nickelback fans).
In a field flooded by amateurs, Franz Ferdinand are professionals. Their stage show is tighter than their trousers. Guitarist Nick McCarthy delivers arrowhead sharp riffs that build on his Wire and Josef K DNA. The rhythm section of Bob Hardy and Paul Thomson are like a Mercedes S class: flashy but tasteful, boasting a collared shirt classic style, and able to handle curves so smoothly that you won't even spill your drink. Up front, Kapranos might have the cockiest croon since Morrissey, and is so slick that he could probably steal your wallet while lecturing you on the Gang of Four's finest B-Side and the proper way to cook a quail. If Oscar Wilde were into danceable post-punk, Franz Ferdinand would be his favorite band.
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Most importantly, Franz Ferdinand have hits. When they played "Dark of the Matinee," "Michael," "Fire," and of course, "Do You Want To," the crowd went berserk -- words recited, hands up, hysteria. In five years, they've amassed a deep catalog that bodes better for their odds of longevity than perhaps any other act from the class of 2004. Plus, they're not too cool to do party tricks: guitar duels, standing on speakers, 20 minute encores. Franz Ferdinand are a vestige to a time when populist wasn't a synonym for dim-witted. They're careful to gird their sugar cane guitar-pop aesthetic with smarts and substance: Russian avant-garde imagery, Michael Bulgakov and Man Ray references. After all, when was the last time you heard Animal Collective successfully use a word like "deference."
Book-ended by maudlin major label saps like Coldplay and the willful obfuscation of the sundry indie darlings du jour, Franz Ferdinand is the rare outfit with true mass appeal. When Southern-fried squirrel-saps like Kings on Leon can sell out the Forum last weekend with schlock rock hits called "Sex on Fire," Franz Ferdinand should be celebrated for their ability to bridge the gap between high and low. My uncle had a great time at the show last night, and so did I.