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ACL Fest review: Franz Ferdinand

Staff Writer
Austin 360

By Chad Swiatecki

Editor’s note: This article was originally published October 8, 2013

While previewing this year’s ACL Fest lineup here at 360 I compared Scottish rockers Franz Ferdinand to the early-2000s NBC series “Las Vegas,” which ran for something like four seasons on Friday nights even though I’ve yet to encounter anyone who ever watched an episode of the James Caan-led drama. The parallel I was trying to draw was that Franz Ferdinand have carved out a weirdly persistent career over the last decade even though its days as a buzz band are well behind them.

Truth is, I missed the mark on that comparison.

The TV show I should have referenced is “Law and Order,” because Franz Ferdinand have a recipe and framework they execute with veteran precision just like that legal drama that for a while looked like it would stay on the air until the day the Earth collapsed into the sun.

The band’s component parts are obvious to anyone who’s ever heard singles like “Take Me Out” or “Do You Want To”; tight and tuneful post-punk guitars, occasional keyboard flourishes and a rhythm section that positively hammers every downbeat to encourage maximum clapping, dancing or both. Those heavy downbeats are so critical to the band’s sound that they’d be pretty much out of business if drummer Paul Thomson were to break a leg or if bass player Bob Hardy were to somehow lose one of his digits.

Seeing the band live in front of a sun-baking crowd it became possible to tell how much overhead hand clapping, dancing and physical reaction they’d get within the first three measures, based solely on the underlying structure of the song. That meant that “This Fire,” “Michael” and the aforementioned singles won the day by emphasizing forward motion and the band’s dance-rock tendencies. Put another way, ballads would not be a good creative direction for this band to explore in front of a festival audience, and they seem to know this and be OK with it.

The end result of taking in all this from a distance for roughly an hour was realizing that even if en total things start to feel fairly same-y and by-the-numbers you’ve got to hand it to this band for knowing its strengths, playing to them and working the formula as hard as they can.