The Commodore Ballroom is rarely this full by the time the opening band starts playing, so on this particular night, more than the usual few hundred welcomed Cate Le Bon and her band. Stylistically, if ‘moody surfer vibe’ doesn’t exist already, it does now. There are bluesy elements in some of the songs, but most of them make for a rather indie sound altogether. Her voice reminds me a little of Poe meets Serena Ryder – Cate has a lovely mellow chest voice and can let her head voice truly rip without sounding like she’s performing vocal gymnastics. I liked how the music doesn’t keep to 3-4 minute songs, or place much emphasis on beginnings or endings – they seem kind of zen that way. I don’t know how many of the 3 male band members were singing falsetto, but whoever it was, had a wicked one. The crowd offered genuine whistles of appreciation and applause after the young Welsh singer/songwriter and her band finished the set. I counted approximately 6 songs over the 35-minute set and there was virtually no talking in between songs – just music.
The venue really did seem near capacity before the opener began with nary a place on the usual fringes or dance floor to find a ‘parking spot’ for the evening. I knew this show was going to be quite different as the last time Franz Ferdinand played the Commodore almost 2 years ago, I was here for ‘doors open’ and got a front-ish row, stage left of Alex Kapranos’s mic stand spot. Ah, memories.
The band got off to a cracker of a start right on time with “Bullet”: abounding with energy from the off. The lighting scheme in the background is ultra-masculine with its reds and blacks and obligatory strobe lights. Kapranos experienced some feedback on his microphone for the first minute or so, but once the sound techs resolved it, everything else was hunky-dory.
“Tell Her Tonight” was almost completely backlit for the first half of the song with stage lighting alternating with the 8 upright spotlights that lined the back wall of the stage. And I still think the chorus is very much inspired by The Beatles somehow. “No You Girls” was an ‘off-book’ version reserved for live performances with longer instrumentals between verses and just more playful all around. This song takes me back and as much fun as the recorded version is, the live version is so much more. The band are as rhythmically precise as always, but where I thought it was sterile and cold before, the whole feel of their show has warmed significantly.
Also, full props to their lighting designer for his/her work on this tour. We don’t just have the equivalent of a few colour gels and follow spots – there is actual design work and it’s obvious. I even had random audience members who knew I was reviewing the show come up to me who asked me to make sure I mention the lighting design, THAT’s how impressive it was. A round of applause for you, whoever you are.
Kapranos checks in with the crowd to make sure everyone’s okay and all that. As a quasi-intro to the next song, he says it’s a song they don’t always play – “Jacqueline”. During the bridge, the audience are encouraged to clap along.
“Walk Away” – the red/black/white colour scheme is back. I love how warm the song sounds, or is it just because I love Kapranos’s low notes. To be quite honest, as long as it’s in the right key, he could be singing “Itsy-Bitsy Spider” for all I’d care. But can I just say, that for some of the guitar parts – this song couldn’t sound any more like something by Kaiser Chiefs if it tried. The crowd sings along with the chorus, lots of arms in the air, such a feel-good vibe in the room.
“Stand on the Horizon” is only the second song from the current CD they’ve played tonight. It’s quick paced, the rhythmic phrasing of the guitar part (it also gets echoed in the keyboard line) in a live setting really gives it legs, the kind that could march along for a while if you needed a foundation to sample beats on top of. The full moon projected on the back wall lends atmosphere or something.
The combination of “Can’t Stop Feeling / Auf Achse” I just loved. The long segue into the second half of the combo featuring keyboards and guitar was accompanied by a seizure-inducing strobe show with Kapranos trying to fire up the crowd even more but the guitar is trying to overpower whatever else is going on in the house and on stage in the sound department but is absolutely on par with the energy level everyone is feeling. The stepping blocks toward the stage left side finally see some use by Kapranos scaling them on the way up and jumping down, pausing for effect after every step before meandering over to the keyboard to finish off the song while a subtle guitar line is just so hypnotic. The whole song goes on for a good 6-7 minutes.
For all of “Fresh Strawberries” I was trying to decide if this is single material or more of an album track. I now know it was released as a single just a couple of weeks ago, but I still ask myself why? At the show, I thought I would have to give it a few more listens, but I was leaning towards album track, not because it doesn’t have ‘that’ Franz Ferdinand sound, but because I thought it was more on the bland side. However, you never know what music buyers and radio stations are going to do, and for all I know, this could be a massive hit for the band. BUT, when you compare this with the awesomeness of “The Dark of the Matinee”, there’s just no contest. You hear the control of the rhythm that’s pushing to just go-go-go and is so carefully reined in, until the chorus comes round when both the guitar parts just sear through that control and the crowd gets to experience that release as well.
“Evil Eye”, the next song from the current CD Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action, is definitely more punctuated and staccato than something like the strawberry song. The rhythm section really stands out in this one which lets everything else (including keyboards and Kapranos) sound fun and quirky. I liked it a lot.
A piece of paper was passed to Kapranos before the band could start the next song. It was duly shown to every band member and with zero fanfare they launched into “Darts of Pleasure”. That, my friends, is apparently how you get the band to play a request. The audience loved it – and when “Do You Want To” (who are we kidding, it should be “Do Ya Wanna”) began right afterward, you could see the Commodore’s bouncy floor doing what it’s famous for. Even the people in the mezzanine (not generally known for their enthusiasm) were singing along in full voice. The extended instrumental in the bridge and the big energetic push to the end of the song seems to get the beginning of the wind-down treatment of the set (you know what I’m talking about – the tipping point in the set when you know the end is only a few songs away), and the band continue firing up the audience into a virtual frenzy. With such band / audience symbiosis, they really feed and fuel each other. It’s also one of my favourite songs, so, well done, everyone! The band launch directly into “Michael”, energy unabated. Searing guitar parts (HOW do everyone’s fingers move so fast? Seriously. Very. Wow.) – soooo much gooood!
“Brief Encounters” featured twinkly stars or something against the background wall. No guitars to start with, just the keyboard. It seems subdued when it comes to the instrumentation but overall has a fun and, again, quirky rhythm (and what’s with the car keys?). With Lucid Dreams, we are in familiar territory. Sounds very much like the album cut, no surprises, just the ‘usual’ – that quality sound that can sustain you for hours. If only.
For “Take Me Out”, Kapranos MAY have dedicated this to some people who MAY have made the trip here from Florida. Or something. Me in the very back – a fast talking (mumbly) Glaswegian in the front – give me half a chance. Does it matter? It’s “Take Me Out”, for crying out loud and it’s makes me think that if these guys would just do a singles/hits/live compilation that I would gladly wear out my speakers playing the thing every chance I got. The guitars are amped up. The vocals are amped up. Everything just seems like so much MORE. And it’s glorious and the band know it pointing to the audience to solo the “take me out” lyric. No-delay segue into “Love Illumination”. I need to get to know this song better. I REALLY liked it live. So did the rest of the audience. People moving up and down, heads nodding, some fist punching. Rockin’ tune.
On some level, the intro to “The Fallen” has always reminded me of the theme song to the TV show “Las Vegas” (“A Little Less Conversation” by Elvis Presley ) – anyone else, or is it my weird brain again? Less so for the verses and definitely not after the “Lala” part, of course. The audience on the floor let their arms sway above their heads which then changes to enthusiastic clapping for the instrumental bridge.
“Ulysses” is another one of my favourites and I am not alone – the audience in the Commodore tonight provides full participation (well, to some degree it is about ‘getting high’, so Vancouver) – and it’s so short. Always too short for me. Not their fault; it’s just how it is. Kapranos sings “suddenly you know” so softly, it’s almost a whisper – if you hadn’t been listening for it, you’d have missed it. Definitely not the album version – and at the end of it, it looks like the band tease the crowd a bit by stopping and making it look like they’re about to clear the stage. They don’t – one more song: “Outsiders”. I love how both Kapranos and Nick McCarthy’s guitars just drive this song. It’s not so well known by the audience, but they kind of wing the na-na sing along parts. And then we focus on a solo tambourine, followed by the snare. This is rare, there’s usually so much going on musically with the other instruments that drums are almost the last thing you think of and yet with such a rhythm-centric band, they’re really rather crucial. As you know. And this is when McCarthy, (Bob) Hardy and Kapranos all crowd around (Paul) Thomson’s drum kit and go full-on percussion-tastic.
It’s just before 11 and they’ve played non-stop for close to an hour and a half. While the audience is whistling, clapping, cheering, and chanting for more, techies re-tune the instruments and within two minutes, the band returns to continue the madness with “Right Action”. The beginnings of vocal fatigue are audible in Kapranos’s higher notes but the band don’t add strain to the song because it’s pretty identical to the album cut. The first couple of verses for “This Fire” start out sounding like Kapranos is pretending to be a lounge singer (the low notes are definitely still there) awash in red light – in the lead-up to the chorus more normal lighting is employed. They seem to power through this song – it’s a great pick for an encore – perhaps with the knowledge that when it’s done, they’re that much closer to a beer or a whiskey or another beverage of choice, but no, they play with the audience and a lyrical tag-teaming of “This fire is out of control” for a few minutes, dragging the inevitable end out. The audience is jumping with arms raised high – much enjoyment all around. And have I said how very lovely the low notes were?
At this song’s conclusion, I observed several of the back rows on the floor doing a minor exodus seizing the opportunity to hit the bar, the merch stand, the toilets, the exit. But there was one song left “Goodbye Lovers And Friends” – come on, folks, it’s for everyone here. And the guitar line in the instrumental part is just mmmmm.
The band take a group bow at just shy of quarter past midnight to roaring applause by a very sweaty and tired crowd. What a great show. The couple sitting beside me (Kyle and Samantha) rate it a 4.5/5 and when I asked Kyle what prevented it from being a full 5, he found the band’s wacky but uniform clothing a little distracting. In the past, the band have experimented with different looks for their uniform in a video or two, so it’s not necessarily out of character for them. Let’s just say I wouldn’t be asking them for the name of their tailor.
It’s funny how musically/hit-wise, this band’s heyday might be behind them, but seeing them again tonight, there’s much more of a sense that they’ve well and truly arrived, at least here at this show. As great a venue as the Commodore is (and it’s one of Vancouver’s best), this show has demonstrated that they CAN do bigger – bigger stage shows and bigger venues (probably not as big as the venues they play in Europe, but still…) and it is my sincere hope that they can fill those bigger venues here in the future.
Photos of Franz Ferdinand © Jamie Taylor