Alex Kapranos and co take their 'Tonight' show to Iberia and are crowned the kings of Castile. Palacio De Deportes, Madrid. Friday, April 3
On the surface, Madrid seems much like any other modern metropolis. it’s all too easy to get lost in the throng of life that transverses its wode boulevards, high-end eateries and designer boutique. But as NME approaches the Palacio De Deportes arena in the heart of the city, it’s clear Madrid retains a uniquely Mediterranean vibe; thousands of fans have gathered in the square outside the venue and sit idly around, sipping cerveza in the sun while the city hums around them. Replace the stunning baroque architecture with an embankment of burger vans and put a jester’s hat on every fifth fan, and you could almost be at a festival.
While this goes on outside, the four members of Franz Ferdinand lie sleeping on their tourbus, trying as best they can to remain oblivious. The cavernous Palacio De Deportes holds 16,000 people and is completely sold out, making this their biggest-ever indoor European show. As Alex Kapranos will later tell us, “I deliberately didn’t go down for the other bands before us because I wanted the adrenaline rush of seeing all those thousands of people for the first time. I knew it was going to be a real ‘fight or flight’ moment for us, walking out there. It was either going to be amazing… or a disaster!” When they eventually do take the stage, disbelief is best left on a cloakroom hanger. The screams are deafening, but more than that, the endless sea of arms is just plain frightening.
“Hola Madrid!” cries Kapranos, affecting an Iberian lisp and grinning wildly as a squall of feedback slowly becomes ‘The Fallen’. And suddenly they’re off, scissor-kicking their way across the stage and savouring every “la-la” refrain the crowd thunders back at them. ‘Fight’ it is, then.
Watching Franz tonight, it’s hard to believe that we first heard songs such as ‘Michael’ and ‘Tell Her Tonight’ in venues not much bigger than the bedrooms they played their formative gigs in. But while the rooms have become larger, little else has changed; Nick McCarthy’s two-step shuffle underpins every song like a bobbing visual metronome, Alex Kapranos remains a rock’n’roll showman par excellence and Bob Hardy is still a stage-left cornerstone of stoic aloofness. Even the songs from ‘Tonight…’ – an album barely three months old – feel warmly familiar; when ‘Ulysses’’ lolloping bassline gives way to the rousing pre-chorus keyboard riff, you can feel all 16,000 people preparing giddily for lift-off, while a rare live outing for the beguiling ‘Twilight Omens’ proves to be an unexpected highlight.
So it’s a shame that while neither band nor audience will ever tire of ‘Matinée’, or the glammy Machiavellian stomp of ‘Take Me Out’, the song that should have been the centrepiece of tonight’s show – ‘Lucid Dreams’, and its eight-minute electro bug-out – falls flat. Literally: just as Paul Thomson emerges from behind his kit to take charge of the drum machine, a technical failure has him rushing back to his stool, tripping over a monitor on the way and cutting the whole thing short.
“It was supposed to be the high-point of the set,” muses Paul afterwards. “I was all ready to come out and do a Bez, go totally mad. But that stupid monitor put an end to all that.”
“I thought the gig was fucking incredible though,” argues Alex. “And Paul’s wee Norman Wisdom turn was the highlight! Plus it made us come back and play ‘This Fire’ the heaviest it’s ever been.”“Aye,” sighs Paul. “And the fastest.”
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“As gaffes go though,” mediates Bob, “playing a song a bit fast doesn’t really compare to falling on your face in front of 16,000 people…”
In truth, though, it hardly seems to matter. The mood backstage is ebullient, and rightly so; tonight wasn’t about gaffes, it was about one of our best-loved bands playing one of the biggest gigs of their lives. It was – as always – about making girls dance. And it
was about a whole lot of getting hiiiiiiiiiigh.
So as the band’s taxi speeds off towards an impromptu post-gig DJ set in a nearby nightclub, you can’t help but think: mission accomplished.