What a Crazy Week: Franz, Kurt, Etc.

Lynne Kiesling

It’s been a long, long time since I’ve been this tired on a Friday afternoon. First week of classes, working on a project with a short timeframe, not enough exercise, and two fun back-to-back music events.

The later one, Wednesday, was our standing visit to the Green Mill to hear The Kurt Elling Quartet whenever they are in town and we can go. This week they were a blast; everyone was in a bit of a silly mood, Kurt read not one but two, two e.e. cummings poems (I adore him), and the guest musician was Howard Levy, who can make the harmonica make sounds that should not be physically possible. Literally. He invented a technique that enables him to play the notes that have been taken out of the harmonica, or at least that’s my philistine understanding of it. It was a total hoot.

Tuesday night was an event I had been anticipating for months: Franz Ferdinand kicked off their North American tour in support of their new album You Could Have It So Much Better, right up the street at the Aragon Ballroom. What a total blast; I even had a better time than at the Snow Patrol concert last fall.

More Friday-afternoon-I’m-too-tired-to-work concert blather after the cut …

I haven’t been so taken by a band since James, and Echo and the Bunnymen before them. See a connection here? I’m a voice weenie. Ian McCulloch (E&TB), Tim Booth (James), and Alex Kapranos (FF) have voices that just reach inside of me, grab me, and shake. Oh yeah, and there’s that Kurt Elling thing …

FF also has the jangly rhythm guitar, the sardonic wit (“words of love/words so leisured/words are poisoned darts of pleasure”), and the not-excessive use of the synthesizer that I love, and they manage to do it without sounding cloyingly retro. Yet they still intentionally reach back and grab some of the fun retro hooks in their music and their image, and they play with them. There’s some fun glam in their image and their stage persona, a bit Who, a bit David Bowie.

And the pace, the rhythm, the energy … in fact, when I did the triathlon in June, I got through the run by singing the refrain to “This Fire” in my head for the entire 3.1 miles.

The concert was great; they sounded as good as the acoustics at the Aragon allow (acoustics at Metro are better), although the sound there is muddy enough that the wonderful nuances of Alex’s voice get lost. They definitely choreograph the lighting and the “decor” (funky hanging banners with b/w pictures of four guys, not the FF guys I think) with the playlist. One other attendee deemed the concert “predictable”, with which I concur. But that’s not a bad thing.

They played about 2/3 of their eponymous album and half of the new album, in an order that kept the energy of the crowd up. They played their blockbuster hit, “Take Me Out”, fourth, which was earlier than I expected. The whole crowd was dancing and singing throughout the whole evening.

The first opening band was Cut Copy. Lots of sampling and synth, not bad, but too much bass line for my taste, and not a particularly clever combination of their components. The second opening band, Pretty Girls Make Graves from Seattle, was more interesting. Lead vocalist is a woman with a Cocteau-Twins-ish voice and styling, and a guitarist who also played the saxophone (and was very cute and wore a preppy sweater vest on stage, which I think takes guts). The other woman in the band played keyboard and some percussion, and played an accordion on one song, which made the KP Spouse very happy (being a budding accordionist himself). A couple of their songs were very tight, and they all sounded like being worth a listen, although it was a little hard to tell because of the muddiness of the sound mixing.

I have to say, it’s fun to be interested in pop music again. I spent most of the past decade listening to jazz, because that’s where the interesting novelty was happening. But now, there’s FF, Kasabian, Kaiser Chiefs, Dandy Warhols, Of Montreal, …