Near the end of Wednesday night’s show at the House of Blues Cleveland, Franz Ferdinand launched into its first big hit, “Take Me Out.” Two by two, the crowd seated in the upper balcony rose to its feet, as the song’s extended intro accumulated tension and volume. The band members themselvesâ€”vocalist/guitarist Alex Kapranos, bassist Bob Hardy, guitarist Dino Bardot, guitarist/keyboardist Julian Corrieâ€”stood at the front of the stage, a unified front, and soaked up the buzzing anticipation.
The payoff was explosive once “Take Me Out” finally started: Throughout the venue, bodies writhed in ecstasy to the song’s pogo-punk beats and its lyrics about dramatic dalliances. Although the tune is 13 years old, its howling, petulant desire hasn’t aged a day.
Franz Ferdinand itself has experienced growing pains, however. Most notably, founding member/guitarist Nick McCarthy left the group in 2016, and this U.S. tour is the Scottish band’s first with new members Bardot (who was in fellow Scots the 1990s) and Corrie, who performs as Miaoux Miaoux. Their influence was both subtle and obvious, in the sense that Franz Ferdinand’s taut post-punk has morphed and expanded to include other prominent influencesâ€”making the band less of a tightly coiled, cloistered unit and one with more massive sonic reach.
This was a boon for “Do You Want To,” which was slower, and had a fuzzier, stoner rock sheen. “Darts Of Pleasure” built with its usual fury, but ended in a loud, punkish jam and the band yelling the song’s German-language ending in perfect harmony. Keyboards were more prominent on the wriggling “This Fire” and the dirty-disco jam “Ulysses.” Still, not everything was successful: The tempo lagged on “No, You Girls,” while the Bowie-esque piano croon “Walk Away” also felt off.
Franz Ferdinand also played a selection of new songs, highlighted by the danceable and enormously appealing “Always Ascending.” The towering electro-disco song boasted a propulsive, gouging groove that at times resembled Giorgio Moroder’s work. “Lazy Boy” was predicated on sinister-sounding, syncopated electro moodiness. “Huck & Jim,” meanwhile, was intriguing and complex: Its stuttering, pastiche-like arrangements featured boozy piano that resembled both David Bowie’s late ’70s work (c.f. “TVC15”) and Sparks’ fractured cabaret. Despite melodic needling that resembles the Cure’s “Lullaby,” “Paper Cages” was less engaging and memorable due to rougher, amorphous arrangements.
Throughout the set, Kapranos remained a commanding ringleader who would dart around the stage doing karate-like leg kicks and Who-style splits-jumps. His timing was often impeccable: “The Fallen” found him spitting lyrics like a hip-hop emcee, while at the end of “Love Illumination,” he kicked right in time with the song’s last words. Shouldering that charisma burden couldn’t have been easyâ€”after “Lazy Boy,” he pointed out the ironic fact that the song is “the most exhausting song we’ve ever played”â€”but he was up to the task.
In fact, Franz Ferdinand’s energy seemed to increase as the show progressed. Encore opener “Stand On The Horizon” spun like a dizzy top, courtesy of drummer Paul Thomson’s tightly wound beat-keeping, while the exuberant “Michael” was a saucy, come-hither jam with shambling, raucous guitars. As the latter song underscored, Franz Ferdinand has always indulged in the many pleasures of the dancefloorâ€”movement itself, of course, and the freedom intrinsic to these movesâ€”and have never been ashamed to embrace the lust and romance that often goes hand-in-hand with a good groove. That stood out most of all at last night’s showâ€”and explains why the band continues to remain such a beloved, must-see live act.