The Fox Theater
August 30, 2022
Photos by Nicole Baptista
If you’re of a certain age, the band Franz Ferdinand needs no introduction. One of the figureheads of the early 2000s post-punk revival, alongside other stalwarts like Bloc Party and Interpol, the band helped to bring back the jerking rhythms and jangly guitar of decades past. The band has been around long enough now to even warrant their first official greatest hits album, Hits To The Head, which is what the band was touring behind when they played The Fox Theater in Oakland on August 30th.
I remember seeing the music video for the now-classic song “Take Me Out” at the age of 14 when it was first entering top 20 countdowns on VH1 and MTV, and excitedly buying the band’s self-titled debut album on CD shortly after. I recall when the music video for their next single, “The Dark Of The Matinée,” premiered on Yahoo! Music and having to wait about ten minutes for the entire video to load properly so I could watch it all in one go. The next year, 2005, saw the release of their sophomore album, You Could Have It So Much Better, which I loved just as much as their first. And then something changed. By the time of the release of their third album, Tonight: Franz Ferdinand, I was 19 and had dove head-first into my obsessions with David Bowie and The Cure. I didn’t have much interest in Franz Ferdinand anymore, and so my enjoyment of their albums became less with each release. I never saw them live for various reasons, and after the global pandemic of 2020, I wasn’t about to miss them, knowing that they were going to be focusing on their most-loved songs for this tour.
The lights dimmed in The Fox Theater. The five members of Franz Ferdinand took the stage: Julian Corrie on keyboards and guitar, Dino Bardot on guitar, Audrey Tait on drums, and then the two remaining original members Bob Hardey on bass, and Alex Kapranos on vocals and guitar. The audience cheered as the four men hit the same chord on their instruments and Audrey hit the cymbals simultaneously, the noise sustained for what felt like minutes. Finally the opening of the aforementioned “The Dark Of The Matinée” began and the crowd erupted as the band began throwing themselves (sometimes physically) into the music, Alex jumping straight up and kicking his legs out to the side before gracefully landing to sing the opening lines, “Take your white finger, slide the nail under the top and bottom buttons of my blazer.” For the first song of the show to be one that I have such strong nostalgic ties to hit me like a gut punch.
Impressively the first five songs played all came from different albums and periods of the band’s output, something that you wouldn’t have known based on how seamlessly the songs went together. First was their latest single “Curious,” a more funk-infused song that had the audience bouncing on their feet. The more somber “Walk Away” was next, from their second album, followed by the sinister-leaning “Evil Eye” from 2015’s Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action, and the more dancey “No You Girls” from their third album. Every single song felt like it was perfectly situated between the ones before and after it, the band delivering the setlist in a way that flowed and felt natural.
One thing that I feel I have to note is the energy and power that the band infuses some of these songs with live, particularly the ones from the first two albums. This isn’t just personal bias talking; songs like “The Fallen,” “Darts Of Pleasure,” and “Michael” had the crowd absolutely going wild, the guitars sounding louder and more menacing than on the recorded versions of these songs. Granted the band has had nearly two decades to fine tune these songs to the point of perfection in a live setting, but the ferocity of the band was something that I did not expect going into the show.
Another note that I couldn’t get out of my head watching the band was how much they reminded me of the early years of Talking Heads, particularly everything before their 1980 album Remain In Light. Both Franz Ferdinand and Talking Heads were able to take what on paper could just be another copy-paste of jangly guitars backed with bass parts that focus on root notes and standard drumming, but no. Both the Heads and Ferdinand’s rhythm section infuses elements of funk under the lead guitar parts, some songs more than others, and transforms what would be standard post-punk-leaning songs into something more danceable and energetic. It also helped that some of Alex Kapranos’s dance moves seemed straight out of the “David Byrne Dancing Guide,” making the comparisons all the more evident.
The show hit a high point of energy during the band’s most well-known song, “Take Me Out,” the band extending the one opening chord of the song into a nearly two-minute intro that saw the four men in the band stand completely still at the front of the stage while the crowd roared and screamed, waiting for Alex to sing about how he’s just a crosshair away from his loved on. When the moment finally came and the song started proper, the amount of energy in the room was monumental. And once the drums kicked in, that energy broke, nearly 3,000 people jumping in unison to the beat, the floor shaking underneath to a point that should have registered on the Richter scale. Once the song ended the band got their biggest applause of the night, but they had no time to wait around; they had to launch straight into the song “Ulysses,” which was a perfect companion to “Take Me Out.”
The encore saw the band pull out the somewhat infrequently performed “Lucid Dreams,” a song that I always saw as the highlight of their third album. Instead of performing the nearly eight-minute long version found on the album though, the band tore through the three-and-a-half-minute single version of the song, which still left me stunned. It could have been the closing number of the night, and in a way I wish that it was, as the true closer, “This Fire,” saw the band stretch the song out to a point that bordered on annoying. For context, the recorded version of “This Fire” is about four minutes long. The version that was performed at The Fox Theater must have doubled that, with the band extending nearly every single part of the song to ridiculous lengths. But then again, most of the crowd seemed to be enjoying it, so take my criticism with a grain of salt.
All in all, despite my somewhat tepid reception to most of the band’s output throughout the last decade or so, I’m incredibly glad that I saw Franz Ferdinand. The show made me reevaluate certain songs and eras of the band that I had either overlooked or outright dismissed, and I think that that was the best outcome that I could have had at the show. Whatever the band ends up releasing next, whether it be an album or a stand-alone single, I’ll be going into it with a much more open mind than I would have had I not gone to the show.
Opener Matthew Dear started out strong, standing behind a table filled to brim with various electronic instruments. His more deadpan vocals had a nice juxtaposition to the synth pop instrumentation underneath, but as the set went on I did notice a lack of variation from song to song. It’s a shame, because I think that I would enjoy most of the songs on their own (save for the one where he sang entirely about how he doesn’t like conversation for the entirety of it), but having them all together in the order that they were performed lessened their punch.