Franz Ferdinand at the Strathmore

Scottish rockers Franz Ferdinand perform at the Strathmore in Bethesda, Maryland. Photo: Franz Ferdinand

WASHINGTON, November 5, 2013 — At first glance, Franz Ferdinand is a band that’s frequently hard to take seriously. The problem starts with their name, which refers to the Austrian Archduke whose assassination is generally accepted as the catalyst for launching World War I. You could be forgiven for thinking that the band might have given a reason for choosing such a name. But there’s no reason given why this Scottish four piece ensemble gave themselves this name other than it’s alliterative quality.

Yet on the other hand, the catchiness of the name is part of their overall, anarchic package. Their recent show at the Strathmore went further to prove how nutty this band really is.

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During their set here, it was hard to actually pinpoint what Franz Ferdinand is serious about ad a band and what’s merely performed for its tongue in cheek effect during. They are clearly a band that doesn’t take itself all that seriously, encouraging the audience to do the same and focus on having fun listening to the music. They don’t seem interested in making a larger statement. For them, the music is enough in and of itself.

In short, Franz Ferdinand has decided to favor style over substance. This can easily be misconstrued as shallow, since there are already a great number of bands that try to achieve some depth with their music or attempt to be more than the sum of their songs and their musical output. But that’s not a dilemma that Franz Ferdinand worries about.

Everything anyone needs to know about Franz Ferdinand is right there on the surface. Yet they’re far from a merely superficial band. Much of their inherent depth comes from song structure rather than any implied meaning behind the lyrics. Their songs aren’t complex, but still have multiple layers that can easily be enjoyed no matter how much of the band you peel away.

Franz Ferdinand hit the scene on the tail end of the garage rock movement, keying in on the loose nature of these bands. They often get labeled as post-punk revival, echoing the bands – predominantly from the UK no less – that became popular in the wake of ‘70s punk rock but not holding to the same musical values. Franz Ferdinand today comes across as a straight rock band while abstaining from surefire simplicity.

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This is the weird dichotomy with Franz Ferdinand, and it manifests further as you take in one of their live performances. They’re “simple” in the sense that it doesn’t take very long to think about their music and absorb it. Yet once you’ve absorbed it, it’s hard to stop thinking about it.  The complexity of the band lies in how they pile one apparently simple layer of sound and meaning on top of another. This makes them an easy band to get into, especially when listening to them live. Their inherent cleverness comes out in full force, making it impossible to escape their infectiousness.

There’s nothing about this band that isn’t catchy, sincere, and earnest, most notably the way each song’s guitar riffs set a hook, or the way Alex Kapranos expresses the band’s often cheesy lyrics whose choruses are easily remembered and repeated. The band simply gets into a groove where the interlocking sounds are heard, acknowledged, and echoed back. 

These are all reasons why Franz Ferdinand’s apparent simplicity and aimlessness is really just a pose. There’s absolutely a subtle genius at work here. The way they craft simple lyrical or aural statements before morphing them into something larger is something a band has to accomplish organically. Other bands have attempted to do what Franz Ferdinand is able to do effortlessly and end up coming off as trite.  Franz Ferdinand simply focuses on their style and lets everything else drop neatly into place.

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Stephen Bradley

Stephen Bradley is an avid music listener and an occasional writer.  He grew up in the Washington DC area and has been embedded in the local music scene for years.  Currently he lives in Vienna, VA.   He enjoys bands that have been broken up for at least a decade.

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