Given the passage of time, it’s little surprise that tonight’s return to the O2 Academy is the sound of a band seeking their place in 2018, blending classic hits with cuts from their brand new fifth album Always Ascending – their first for five years.
Of course, before the Glaswegians and their contemporaries infiltrated the charts, the US enjoyed its own early ‘00s indie explosion, of which tonight’s support act Albert Hammond Jr. was front and centre. Best known as guitarist of The Strokes, the New Yorker arrived with his own four-piece band, and showcased material from his four solo albums – including the upcoming Francis Troubles.The outfit were as tight as you’d expect and Hammond revelled in his less familiar singing roll, but this was by and large a perfunctory performance whose best moments came when diverging from his main group’s trademark garage sound. When Franz Ferdinand themselves took to the stage, they did so sporting an unfamiliar look. Indeed, once you got past frontman Alex Kapranos’s new bleach blonde quiff there was also a change of personnel to register, with founding member Nick McCarthy replaced by the duo of Dino Bardot (guitar) and Julian Corrie (keys). They may lack the chemistry of the group’s previous incarnation, yet the two new faces nevertheless acquitted themselves well, fleshing out old favourites and adding depth to the more diverse sounds found on the new album.Given that the record has only been out for seven days, it wasn’t entirely surprising that these songs were met with a slightly muted response – many fans won’t yet have found time to listen to the new LP, never mind properly digest its contents.The wider issue, though, is that the vast majority of them simply don’t hold up alongside live staples.The change of musical direction is to be commended, but the likes of Glimpse of Love and Finally lack both the hooks and rhythmic punch carried throughout the rest of their career, even on their more modestly received latter day LPs.In truth, the album’s title track and fellow single Feel the Love Go are the only numbers which seem likely to survive the cull for future tours – so it was a relief to hear more established cuts performed with all their usual panache.Do You Want To for one has never sounded better, and was elevated alongside the likes of The Dark of the Matinee, Michael and – of course – Take Me Out as a highlight.For me, though, tonight’s standout was the rather less heralded Stand on the Horizon; a delightfully multifaceted gem from 2013’s Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action which references Kapranos’s South Shields heritage, and perhaps ranks as the most underrated in the band’s catalogue. It may be due to old hits rather than new additions, but the fact Franz Ferdinand still pack out rooms of this size when most of their contemporaries have either dissolved or faded to obscurity or irrelevance is a feat in itself. The past 15 years have seen them play better shows and debut better songs, but once they hit their stride the Scots remain as irresistible as ever.
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