By Matthew Prudham
Both acts on the bill had already headlined major UK festivals: Franz Ferdinand at Reading & Leeds in 2006, and Albert Hammond Jr., as rhythm/lead guitarist of The Strokes, had the same honour in 2011. So, to see both acts on the same bill at the relatively intimate venue of the O2 Academy was an opportunity not to be missed, and a chance to reminisce at some of the finest indie rock acts of the 21st Century.
Yet, both bands were not focusing on the past, but very much looking forward to the future: Franz Ferdinand rocked into Newcastle in support of their Top 10 new record Always Ascending, which features heavy dance and acid-house influences alongside their traditional guitar-heavy sound. Meanwhile, Albert Hammond Jr. treated fans to first listens to his upcoming solo record, Francis Trouble, due for release on 9th March via Red Bull Records.
Whilst it took a couple of songs for the crowd to wake up and start dancing to the grooves of Hammond Jr. and his excellent band, highlights of his set included ‘Muted Beatings’, and the lead single from his new record, ‘Far Away Truths’. The latter set the stage alight with guitar riffs similar to those featured on The Strokes’ ‘The Modern Age’, but with a more sharpened edge, provided by distorted chords accompanying excellently delivered vocals by Albert Hammond Jr. The former, however, provided one of the highlights of his almost hour-long support set, with its slow, infectious crescendo allowing Hammond Jr. to grasp the involvement of the crowd, jumping off the main stage and going right up to the barrier to allow the audience to sing along.
The set as a whole was made even more enjoyable by the superb use of strobe lighting, allowing some of the colours and emotions of the tracks, such as unreleased track ‘Harder, Harder, Harder,’ to be more accessible to the crowd. Nevertheless, the final highlight of a truly great set was ‘Caught By Your Shadow’, arguably the best track from previous album Momentary Masters, which features grungy guitars with fantastic harmonies, slick, sneering vocals, and overall superb cohesion within the whole band – you could clearly see they were enjoying their time on stage.
After what seemed like an extremely long wait, Franz Ferdinand took to the stage and started playing ‘Paper Cages’, the third single off their new album. Again, it took a little while for the crowd to get going – perhaps because they were surprised by the choice of set opener, which is much more of a lighter, electronic track than what we are used to. Nevertheless, the following two songs, ‘No You Girls’ and ‘The Death of the Matinée’ caused the crowd to change completely, shouting along to the choruses (almost drowning out the vocals of lead singer Alex Kapranos), and jumping up in the air. Indeed, the addition of new members Julian Corrie on keys and Dino Bardot on guitar, replacing Nick McCarthy who left the band in 2016, appears to have given the band a fresh, youthful look.
Frontman Alex Kapranos is back to his best too, characteristically jumping up and down along with the crowd.
Endearing themselves further towards the audience, Franz Ferdinand played two tracks with special meaning to the North East, and South Shields in particular. The scenic description of politically-charged song ‘Walk Away’ was inspired by the area in and around historic County Durham, but you could tell the track with the most meaning for members of the crowd was the latter track, ‘Stand on the Horizon’. I noticed a tear here and there on the faces of the audience, whilst Alex Kapronos told the tale of the North Sea and its mystical power, singing “Oh won’t you come to me”. This was a special moment – the crowd calmly singing along to a track relating so much to their homeland, with the band clearly able to create a magical atmosphere inside the Academy.
The scenes certainly did not stop there. New tracks ‘Lazy Boy’ and ‘Glimpse of Love’ were accompanied by flashy dance moves from Kapranos, displaying how effective their new sound was as the audience danced along, too. The crowd itself was not just made up of 25-year olds ruminating the days of their indie youth, but there were plenty of teens sporting tees from fresher bands including Cabbage and The Sherlocks, who were clearly here to see one of the defining acts of a generation. This was proved when the time arrived for the classic Franz Ferdinand track, ‘Take Me Out’: causing the first mosh pit of the evening, excitement was instantly created when the first lingering guitar notes were thrashed out, signalling the beginning of a song which has become a central part of every ‘alternative’ club night across the UK.
After their setlist-ender ‘Ulysses’, the band re-entered the stage to roaring reception, as they began their encore. They ended the night with the classic track ‘This Fire’, during which one had no choice but to join in the moshpits, with a couple of people attempting to crowd surf. You could tell the track had been written for nights like this, a chance to sing – or rather, shout – along to the infectious lyrics “This fire is out of control / It’s gonna burn this city”, whilst you escape from the wet, windy weather of the North East this time of year.
I can predict that Franz Ferdinand will still be ascending for a longer while yet.
Overall, I didn’t expect the gig to be as crazy as this; I was pleasantly surprised by the rather non-sedate affair, whilst gaining the chance to hear some of the greatest musical talents of this century. Unforgettable.
Photograph: Chuff Media