Friday, January 30, 2004

The immaculate conception

Tuesday and - for me (and others) - the NME Awards Tour show at the Birmingham Piss-Weak Lager Academy. Four bands on the bill, but the night very definitely belongs to just one of them.

It isn't The Von Bondies. On this evidence there's a growing feeling that their moment has passed, their star having been at its highest point when I last saw them, in this very venue in August 2002. Of course, they'll probably go and sell loads of copies of new LP Pawn Shoppe Heart just to spite me now, but stuff like this should sound great live and the new material just doesn't do it. All I can do is stand around expectantly waiting for 'It Came From Japan' - not a ringing endorsement of the set as a whole.

It isn't Funeral For A Friend, who, by virtue of being A Young Metal Band, have pulled in the mascara'd black-T-shirted fourteen-year-olds like flies to shit. The appeal's not hard to see - with tracks like 'Bullet Theory' and 'Juneau' they've got the heaviness for the metalheads, they've got the haircuts and vocals for the emo set, and they're less goofy and more cool than Hundred Reasons. Quite why vocalist Matt makes a big deal about announcing they're from South Wales I don't know - they couldn't sound much more American if they tried.

It isn't even The Rapture, who improve with every sighting (this being my third). Whereas once the set was a challenging and occasionally uncomfortably bumpy journey to the tremendous finale of 'House Of Jealous Lovers', it's now a wild and wonderful ride which takes in weird guitar rhythms, saxophone galore, balls-in-vice vocals, throbbing house gems of the dark ('Olio') and light ('I Need Your Love') variety and even a couple of potentially chart-friendly singles ('Sister Savior' and 'Love Is All' - the latter is rightly getting released on its own). 'House Of Jealous Lovers' isn't even the final act - there's more. And it's all good.

No, the night very definitely belongs to Franz Ferdinand. They might have had the misfortune to end up with the first slot, but that doesn't deter them in the slightest. It's great to see a band who came across as loveable but eccentric sell-nothing arty geeks back in August looking so naturally at home on the Academy's stage, buoyed by the knowledge that they've got a corker of an LP just waiting to be unleashed. The opening trio of songs - 'Shopping For Blood', 'Tell Her Tonight' and the ever-marvellous chart-scorching single 'Take Me Out' - are as clear a statement of intent as you'll ever hear, that statement being, "We have come for your ears and your stereos". Let's get one thing straight: they ARE the new Strokes, if only in the sense that they're the most precociously well-formed band to appear since Julian Casablancas and company came into view. Parading almost mathematically perfect songs like 'Better On Holiday' and 'Darts Of Pleasure' on stage, they're like a newborn baby freshly emerged from the womb clutching the proofs for a new law of physics. They really must put something in the water up there in Glasgow...

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