In 2013, I was a uni student living in Kingston, the southwest corner of the city of London in the UK. American money only counted for about half a British pound at that time, so everything I spent was actually costing me double the ticketed price. A late-night, drunken-emergency pack of cigarettes at Waterloo Station rocked me for £11.50, about $23. The first thing I learned from the kids at uni was how to roll my own cigarettes.
Photography by: Lauren Welch
One of my top reasons for choosing London as my next home had been the access to music; I was saving my leftover pence to buy concert tickets with, mostly for the bands I knew I’d probably never have the chance to see again if I ended up having to move back stateside, Kasabian, Arctic Monkeys… I get an email notification from Ticketmaster UK one day that Franz Ferdinand and Babyshambles are both coming to play the Roundhouse in Camden exactly four days apart, Babyshambles on 10 March and Franz Ferdinand on 14 March of 2014.
Well fuck. I really cannot afford both, so some serious decisions will need to be made. Franz Ferdinand or Babyshambles? For other Americans this is a no-brainer, no one knows who Babyshambles or its frontman Pete Doherty is (in the US, he’s ‘that guy Kate Moss was busted doing drugs with years ago’).
Franz Ferdinand is popular in America; it’s likely I could see them in Cleveland at some point. Pete Doherty is definitely not coming to the US; even if he wanted to, his past drug convictions guarantee he won’t get a visa here. And frankly, the chances of Pete dropping dead at any moment from all the heroin he did are much more likely than myself, Hardy or Kapranos buying the farm…if I don’t take the chance to see Doherty’s band now, I may not get another one.
So I did it. I passed on Franz Ferdinand and bought the Babyshambles ticket. Ultimately it was the right decision and three years later I am being rewarded for my good choices by getting my first chance to see Franz Ferdinand on a tour stop through Cleveland seemingly out of nowhere, and I’m with a friend who is just as stoked about seeing them as I am.
Franz Ferdinand have not released an album, and by the time they play the first four, five songs, it’s clear that this show is simply a love letter to die-hard fans. There’s no new music to promote and they’re just playing all the stuff they know we want to hear, one after the other after the other. The band who made dancing to rock songs fun again, just stopping by Cleveland to say “hi”.
Two big ones came straight out the gate. Kapranos walks onto the stage, leans into the mic and sings, “Jacqueline-” and by the time he gets to “seventeen”, the audience has taken over. He joins them in reciting the lyrics until the giant guitar leap into “It’s always better on holiday…” Then it’s right on to “No You Girls”. “Darts Of Pleasure”, “The Dark Of The Matinee” and “Do You Wanna” were also all rolled out early in the set.
Part of Franz Ferdinand’s appeal has always been their clean-cut appearance, though they’ve gradually embraced a more casual, “rockstar-ish” look, if you will, over time. Kapranos starts the night in a leopard-print blazer and the new longer hair looks good on him. The other boys are in button-down shirts – sharp without being overstated.
Judge Franz Ferdinand just on the merits of their performance and you are treated to a seriously HOT live group. They’re masters of the hook, and hooks always go over well live. In some songs, it’s the melody, like the riffs in “Take Me Out”, and sometimes it’s the refrain, like in “This Fire”. The epic-long ending to “Do You Wanna”, the gradual build into the beginning melodies of “Take Me Out”, and the crowd-teasing pauses and breaks in “Ulysses”: Franz Ferdinand have found their personal solutions to the biggest problem for live bands, keeping the audience engaged.
The jagged, or “angular”, melodies the band is so well-known for translate well live, especially considering they play at a slightly faster pace than the studio recordings their sound is crisp and not easy to play live especially as quickly as these guys do. Give them credit as musicians.
They are a textbook-classic live band. Alex told me later he feels the energy within the band is the best it’s ever been right now and I back his word on it.
Hit after hit continues with “Michael” also receiving the crowd sing-along treatment while Kapranos assists with the sultry vocal delivery so recognisable and appreciated from the album version. “This Boy” and the more serious “Walk Away” make their way in toward the end of the set. Alex Kapranos is the engaging and animated personality while the rest of the band remains a bit understated in a way that is not standoffish, but actually feels quite warm.
That warmth extends to their personalities. Bass player Bob Hardy and newbie keyboardist Julian Corrie came out to meet several fans who had stayed around after the show. Alex soon joined them and all three ended up engaged in conversation with an older fan, one of those cool hippie guys who has no hair left on the top of his head but a long ponytail in the back, and he was telling them stories about seeing Pink Floyd and Ozric Tentacles back in the day.
I missed that convo, instead talking to a very attractive girl from Pittsburgh with long, straight brown hair and bright eyes. We chuck off the obvious rivalry, talking about the show and ourselves instead. We learn we’re both single, straight and sapeosexual – we laugh at the idea that I have to remain professional when we meet them and she doesn’t. I tell her the story of having to choose between the Babyshambles and Franz Ferdinand show – of course she has no fucking idea who Babyshambles is.
So I introduce myself as the reporter to Hardy and Kapranos and they’re as laid back and genuinely polite as you’d expect. I express that I’m glad I finally saw them, but I don’t confess to the why; when I saw Kapranos come out to meet us my first thought had been thank you for not dying first. Not only am I now absolved for skipping out on them in London, but I’m convinced this was the first-show that was meant to be.
And as of this writing, Pete Doherty is also still alive.