News Column

Review: Franz Ferdinand gets loose at the Echoplex

July 31, 2013

YellowBrix

July 31--"Almost everything could be forgotten," Alex Kapranos sang Tuesday night at the Echoplex, and that's a truism he's observed firsthand.

The stylish frontman of Glasgow's Franz Ferdinand is the rare survivor from the dance-rock revival that occupied hipsters in the mid-2000s before giving way inevitably to subsequent trends; Kapranos and his bandmates have outlasted comrades from Radio 4 and Moving Units and the Dead 60s, and they've done it by staying cheerfully on-message.

Unlike the Killers, a former dance-rock act that's found endurance in embracing other (bigger) sounds, Franz Ferdinand still believes in chicken-scratch guitar riffs and clipped high-hat rhythms.

Tuesday's concert was part of the long promotional run-up to the release next month of "Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action," the band's first album since 2009. In April it performed at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival; Monday night it appeared on "Conan."

And on Wednesday it's to play a small-scale radio-station gig on the roof of the Hollywood Tower. (The group had also come to L.A. to shoot a music video with the director Diane Martel, best known for her controversial clip for "Blurred Lines" by Robin Thicke.)

All that strategic ground-softening might've led you to expect something rather perfunctory at the Echoplex: a dozen songs doled out in the hopes of building some social-media buzz. But Franz Ferdinand had a different idea -- it was ready to cut loose.

Not too loose, of course.

Always one of dance-rock's most propulsive outfits, the group kept its beats crisp and its bass lines taut in old hits like "Take Me Out" and "Ulysses" and new songs such as the chattering "Right Action" (which had the line about everything being forgotten) and "Evil Eye," a slinky, menacing number that Kapranos dedicated to Martel.

For Franz Ferdinand, though, that devotion to songcraft is reflexive; it doesn't require active thought.

So as they whipped through their tidy 45-minute set, the band's members were free to concentrate on more important matters: the way Kapranos shimmied his hips during "The Dark of the Matinee," for instance, or guitarist Nick McCarthy's dive into the audience at the beginning of "Michael."

Even bassist Bob Hardy, who as in the group's early days looked like he'd had one whiskey too many, got into the spirit for "Stand on the Horizon," a tune from the new album with a buoyant soul-funk feel.

It was all contributing to a kind of casual intensity you don't often get from bands in Franz Ferdinand's position; the show had an optimistic vibe, eager but not desperate.

Perhaps that bonhomie derived from the band's knowledge that it's stuck around long enough to see pop circle back in its favor. As Kapranos swaggered through "Love Illumination," a great new disco-flavored song, his singing called to mind the louche white dudes -- Thicke, Justin Timberlake and Daft Punk -- who've scored some of this summer's biggest hits.

Might Franz Ferdinand be right on time all over again?

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