The Archdukes Revenge: Franz Ferdinand Takes Williamsburgby Todd Simmons
Despite naming themselves after an archduke whose assassination sparked the inferno of World War I, Franz Ferdinand are way beyond a cheeky in-joke. They’re a tightly coiled dance-punk band with a striking sense of melody, overflowing with clever songs and infectious hooks. On a recent muggy summer evening, these four musicians from Glasgow unleashed their act in Williamsburg’s newest venue, Volume.
The band delivered a stunning set of highly charged music that distances them from the pack of New Rock bands currently infesting the airwaves. The hype these days is how the U.S. has been shipping its sound to the U.K. in the form of the White Stripes, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the Strokes, and Interpol. Scotland has now more than returned the favor.
Franz Ferdinand stepped into the moody stage lights after midnight and wasted no time working the audience into a frenzy with their arsenal of relentlessly catchy tunes. Stylishly decked out, with big grins on their faces and a devilish gleam in their eyes, they delivered a devastating cocktail of Eno-era Roxy Music, Duran Duran, and the Buzzcocks. With a mixture of hurtling punk rock ("Cheating on You"), snaky dance numbers ("Auf Achse"), or a combination of both ("Darts of Pleasure"), the band transformed the club’s icy hipster crowd into a sweaty, gyrating mob in short order.
It’s hard to comprehend how a group with just one record under its belt, and without years of toil on the road behind them, could display such command of the stage. With little effort they had the audience pogoing and absurdly shouting along with them—"Ich heisse superfantastisch! Ich trinke Schampus mit Lachsfisch!" (German for "My name is Super Fantastic! I drink champagne with salmon!")—with the same fervor you’d expect from a performance of "We Will Rock You." Riffing like a veteran group in their prime rather than a band that had never headlined a large venue in the States before, and clearly enjoying themselves in the process, they were far tighter than anyone could have expected them to be. They opened, built, and closed the show with complete confidence, surging to a crescendo with the anthemic "This Fire," on which singer Alex Kapranos had the crowd enthusiastically chanting along with him: "This fire is out of control—burn this city, burn this city!"
Volume, which opened near the Brooklyn Brewery earlier this year, is the borough’s latest gift to the New York City concert scene. It has a large performance space and an excellent sound system that make it more than an alternative to the usual Manhattan circuit. It’s a legitimate, multi-use venue that may soon compete for the attention of national touring acts looking for the place to play in New York City. With a raw, loftlike atmosphere, painted brick walls, concrete floors, and graffiti-tagged (but remarkably clean) restrooms, it feels the way a rock club should—minus the smoke, of course. Aside from inexplicably having to plead with the doorman to return my ticket stub ("I collect ‘em!"), I was truly impressed with the place.
The name Volume is appropriate for a nightclub that pretty much has the block to itself and can crank it up at will, with few to complain about the racket. Franz Ferdinand took advantage of this freedom with powerful results. Their songs, at times frenetic and careening yet always melodic, are compelling enough as it is on record. But with this potent sound system behind them, they simply burst off the stage. Many clubs give heavy priority to the guitar at the expense of vocal clarity and bass, but this space has no such concerns. I could follow the path of any line or layer of the music that enticed me and hear it with resonance and precision, loud and clear.
The charismatic Franz Ferdinand (Kapranos, Nick McCarthy, Bob Hardy, and Paul Thomson) produce dynamic songs spiked with guitar spirals, humming keyboards, pulsing bass, and dead-on vocal harmonies. Their debut album is so packed with instantly memorable, vibrant, and hook-laden songs that it sounds like a best-of collection. The extraordinary self-titled release is in a rarified class of freshman records along with those of the Cars, Violent Femmes, Pretenders, and Pixies. The band has hit the ground running with (to quote "Darts of Pleasure") a "dark fantastic passion."
To experience these songs in concert for the first time elicits an even stronger sensation. Though Franz Ferdinand doesn’t have a wealth of material to choose from yet, the order and length of the Volume set felt exactly right. It was a highly satisfying gig, in which the band delivered everything they had, scratched every itch in the crowd, hit the sweet spot, and then slammed the door shut. On to burn the next city.
Todd Simmons is a writer/actor/improviser. He lives in the East Village.