FFS | 10.11.15

The concert echoed that brilliance and offered not two bands coming together, but one sharp band.


Ogden Theatre, Denver
All Photos of FFS at The Vic Theatre in Chicago: Kiernan Scrima 

Seeing FFS (Franz Ferdinand and Sparks) united two very important periods in my life that were decades apart. The first time I saw Franz Ferdinand was in 2004, right here in Denver. Their performance for their first album was electric. PLAYBACK:stl was just two years old and blossoming into a full-fledged magazine. My wife and I were just visiting, but we both thought that we would love to live in Denver, and now we do. I fell in music love with Sparks in high school during the late ‘70s. Somewhere between Bowie, Devo, and Dr. Demento, they were ideal for a kid who liked puns and had a slightly warped sense of humor. The Mael brothers had a distinct style that they flaunted at every turn (especially Ron’s Chaplin/Hitleresque mustache, combined with his statue-like ways on stage) and made for an ideal ladder out of my Beatles-laden youth.

When the two bands announced a joint effort—a supergroup—with an album and a tour, I was excited and perhaps a bit fearful. The Maels are not young: Ron is now 70 and Russell is 67. I didn’t want this to be a trotting out of the heroes for a brief hello and then shuffling them off the stage. Thankfully, the CD relieved my fears. The Sparks’ spark was quite evident with odd little asides and wildly skewered song ideas. Better, the combination seemed to bring out the best in Franz Ferdinand. They were meant to be together, and not as two separate bands but one distinct unit. In an interview, Franz’s Alex Kapranos and the brothers described the correspondence between the bands’ Scotland and Los Angeles bases, respectively. Tapes of song ideas were sent back and forth, until finally the two bands came together for a few weeks of intense co-mingling to become FFS. Oddly enough, one of the first songs the Maels sent Team Franz was the beginnings of “Collaborations Don’t Work,” as if it were a challenge. The disc works because of the two bands’ admiration for each other. Not only does the music reflect two acts at their sharpest, but it is a damn fine album to boot. Funny, ironic, and more than a bit defiant, it could not have been better.FFS 300

The concert echoed that brilliance and offered not two bands coming together, but one sharp band. Ron Mael on keyboards sat in his traditional place at stage left. For much of the show, he remained mechanically playing and staring with almost no emotion. Russell, who joined Kapranos center stage, showed no signs of aging, especially based on the amount of dancing and leaping he did. The show opened with “Johnny Delusional” and wound through the new album, stopping occasionally to play a song from each of the bands’ own catalogs. The two singers harmonized and parried verses, allowing the musical conversation to come to life. Not to take away from the FFS album, but the high point, at least for me, was when the bands played material from their respective catalogs. The crowd was definitely on the young side, but when FFS broke into Sparks’ 1974 hit “This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both of Us,” there was an immediate response from the audience. For one time during the night, it was fully Sparks on stage with an awesome backup band that gave the song all the pyrotechnics it deserves.

The two “old guys” on the stage were more than equal to their younger bandmates. Even at 5,300 feet above sea level, there was much FFS aerobics and disco dancing. At one point, Ron Mael even left his organ to do a perfect Grouch dance across the stage.

The night went on to prove that, in contrast to what that first song claims, collaborations do work. | Jim Dunn


The Vic, Chicago

You can always expect a fun, high-energy show when it comes to Franz Ferdinand, but they upped the ante in their collaboration with Sparks. You didn’t get the feeling that it was two bands up on stage playing together; they were genuinely having a great time. Singers Alex Kapranos and Russel Mael gel so well together, and the pairing of Mael’s falsetto along with Kapranos’ gravelly vocals add depth to the songs live. The self-titled FFS is really brought to life when played live. Each band also played a few of their original songs, and it was fun to see everyone joining in and adding to them. It gives older FF songs “The Number One Song in Heaven,” “Michael,” and “Take Me Out” a different dimension when you have harmonizing vocals. They didn’t feel out of place, nor did they bring the vibe down; it just felt like another song from the album. Some bands are just meant to be seen live and FFS is no exception. Equal parts theatrical and weird, the energy was alive from the get go and didn’t let up for an hour and a half. That’s how you know this collaboration worked. | Kiernan Scrima

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About Jim Dunn 126 Articles
Jim Dunn grew up in NY in the 70s and 80s. Even though that time in music really shapes his appreciation it does not define it. Music, like his beloved history is a long intermingled path that grows, builds and steals from its past. He lives in Colorado with his lovely wife and a wild bunch of animals.

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