Franz Ferdinand & The Cribs - Heineken Music Hall, Amsterdam - 22/11/2009

Tonight they came, they played and they conquered the flat lands again.

www.franzferdinand.co.uk

 

Entering the Black Box of the Heineken Music Hall when the house lights were still up was a sobering experience for the editors of Incendiary. The room was full of children. Teenage children. Thousands of them. They stared at us, suspiciously. “Who let the old guys in? Don’t they have an eighties revival to go to?” Incendiary hung out by the bar, which shaded us from the house lights but only served to make us look more like chaperones at a school disco.

Thankfully, eventually, the house lights dimmed and after a brief moment or two in almost complete, comforting darkness Wakefield’s finest export, The Cribs, wandered on stage alongside a small gentleman with exceedingly well kept hair and a white guitar strung over his shoulder. That man was none other than Johnny Marr. Incendiary and the other couple of old gentlemen in the crowd became all excited. The kids? Well, the girls quickly shot their gazes back and forth, wondering which Jarman they fancied the most and the lads were trying to decide whether or not they could pull off the leather jacket and bowl cut combination quite as well as Ryan. Then The Cribs started to play and all hell broke loose. 

Let me get this out of the way quickly. Standing there watching Johnny Marr play guitar made Incendiary very happy. I mean, the guy’s played with Modest Mouse, The Pretenders, Pet Shop Boys, Billy Bragg, Karl Bartos, Neil Finn, Black Grape, Kirsty MacColl, Bryan Ferry, Talking Heads and Beck, to name but a few and Incendiary indulged themselves with a little bit of hero worship for the first few minutes, for which we beg his forgiveness. It quickly became obvious though that 98% of the crowd didn’t have a bloody clue who he was, which made us feel even more like school teachers at an end of term dance, to the point that one Incendiary editor took it upon himself to lecture a handful of young ladies in his vicinity on the rock and roll history of Mr Marr. We’re nothing if not educational.

I thought it best to get that out of the way up front because what became incredibly clear, within a few songs, is that The Cribs are turning into a truly formidable animal and not just because they’ve got the guy who used to play guitar in Electronic on stage with them. The presence of Johnny Marr makes a difference, to be sure, (check out their blistering Ignore The Ignorant album and tell me I’m wrong!) but not in the way you may expect. What I found so pleasantly surprising is that The Cribs are still cocky enough to make Johnny play rhythm guitar a lot of the time. They haven’t just thrown their hero up front as if to show off which, let’s face it, is exactly what Incendiary would do if we were in a band. Johnny Marr may well be a part of The Cribs, but this is still the Jarmans’ show. In fact, they pretty much ignore him half the time. Take Mirror Kissers, for example, which sounded bloody marvellous tonight and is still as scathing at is was four years ago. The extra guitar makes it seem even more powerful and in your face but when the three brothers turn in to face each other and get stuck into the meat of the song, Johnny’s left on his own, filling in the space around them. What it goes to show is that, although the addition of Marr is very welcome, it’s no gimmick. The Cribs don’t need them, never have. For a warm up set, this was astonishing. Incendiary can’t wait to see them headline their own show over here again. The Cribs are one of the most exciting bands around at the moment. I think it’s time we all took notice.

Of course, the Cribs may have had a backdrop as big as the headliners with their name written out in 4000pt type and they may well have been noted down as ‘special guests’ but the five thousand teenagers in the crowd were only here for one reason and one reason only. Franz Ferdinand. The extended intro to This Fire welcomed the band to the stage, bringing the crowd up to fever pitch within seconds, turning the heat up without even trying and by the time the band hit the first chorus, the gig was already a success – thousands of bouncing teenagers, smiling, sweating and bouncing around like a troop of kangaroos. 

Being too old for all that bouncing around, Incendiary stepped back a few rows and stood, almost mesmerized by the ‘Nand’s performance. They followed This Fire with Live Alone, which kept the initial wave of jubilation cresting throughout the crowd but it was sometime during Walk Away that we noticed just how far this band have come and just how truly good they are. 

Incendiary were at their first gig in Holland, in the Ekko. We were there at the Paradiso too, which was a legendary evening and those frenzied early performances introduced us to a band that bristled with energy and vitality. The sheer will and determination that was so obviously present in them back then gave them the potential to be great, truly great. We were also here when, after Take Me Out had made them instantaneously massive, they were thrust into this very room, almost too early, as the label tried to milk as much money as possible from the fans while they were hip. They stepped up to the plate and hit a home run that night, looking like they were made for the bigger stage and then they were off, playing sports halls and arenas everywhere. But getting to that level is one thing, staying there is another. 

Franz Ferdinand are a clever bunch. They’re so carefully aware of their image, their presence and their place, that I think the enforced break they took between albums 2 and 3 helped them immensely. They returned not when the crowds or the label wanted them to but when they themselves were ready. Tonight: came out earlier this year to a somewhat more lukewarm response than their earlier efforts and there was a sense that the music press had moved on from them slightly. But so what? The fans found the record and they loved it. Proof lies in the fact that there were five thousand of them in this room tonight screaming along to Can’t Stop Feeling and a blistering, monumental Ulysees

Tonight: feels different from their first two records and when you hear its tracks played live you begin to understand why. Their debut was an album for kids in bedrooms, You Could Have It So Much Better was an album made for decent sized clubs and venues, Tonight feels at home here, in this room, with thousands of people. That is the difference between Franz and so many other bands. They found their place and they know how to stay there. So many bands fall from grace once they’ve hit the larger stages and arenas because they can’t move on, they can’t develop quick enough. I’m sure if Franz had tried to rush their third album as much as their second they may well have come a cropper to this problem too but, like I said earlier, they’re a clever bunch. 

The larger arenas need a different kind of sound. Let’s face it, Take Me Out may well have been the best thing since sliced bread when it arrived but they can’t live on that forever and tonight it sounded almost laboured sandwiched in between No You Girls and that astonishing version of Ulysees. The one ‘oldie,’ if a song that’s only half a dozen years old can be called such a thing, that still sounds as fantastic as it used to is 40’, which got everybody into a happy-clappy mood and led into Outsiders, which proved to be a clever main set closer. 

They even planned their encore well, playing four tracks of ever increasing quality. The Dark of the Matinee led into a wonderful, audience-led Darts of Pleasure before the wonderfully spiky Turn It On made everyone fall in lust with whoever was next to them and then the epic, closing Lucid Dreams closed things out with it’s contrived but incredibly entertaining percussion set piece where the four members play their own variation of musical chairs whilst beating the living daylights of a hastily erected drum kit. Contrived maybe, but it worked wonders. 

They left to rapturous applause. Tonight they came, they played and they conquered the flat lands again. All we have to say is, long may they run.