It was quite a week in the
The first show on Monday was Franz Ferdinand in the Grand Ole Opry, a band I’d never seen live, at a venue I had never been to before. On the next night Snow Patrol played in the tiny, but great, King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut, this is a band I’ve seen a couple of times live, once before they made it big, and once after, truth be told I wasn’t that impressed either time. So with that in mind I decided to pay to see Franz Ferdinand while a friend won tickets for the XFM Scotland Radio Snow Patrol session.
The successes of Franz Ferdinand and Snow Patrol came from entirely different paths. The former are a relatively new band, though lead singer Alex Kapranos and drummer Paul Thomson have been pillars of
Franz were a band much whispered about the Glasgow music scene but for some reason I’d never taken the time to see them, then seemingly out of nowhere their debut album came out and little more than six months later Franz Ferdinand had become a household name.
Their music was fun - albeit of the arty, intelligent kind – but it was by no means certain that their music would make it mainstream. This was a band very much in touch with their
Snow Patrol, on the other hand, took their time. The band members may all hail from
Personally speaking, whenever I’ve seen Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody take to the stage I’ve not been impressed by his ability to command it and work the audience like a lead singer should. At the beginning of his career I put it down to the fact that most of the songs weren’t very well known, or that good to be honest, but I was expecting more after Final Straw came out, especially with songs such as Run, Chocolate, and How To be Dead making the radio airwaves as frequently as they did but somehow although it was a great studio album made for playing on the radio the performance I seen live that same year didn’t really translate on the night to a good gig. In contrast people who had seen Franz Ferdinand the same year as their debut album came out commented on how great they were at commanding the stage.
The venues, and the atmosphere at each of the gigs this week, speaks to the differences between the two bands. Franz continue to go their own way, by picking an unorthodox setting (a venue beloved of Glasgow's Hank Williams obsessives) and selling it out by hushed word-of-mouth alone, they turning the entire thing into a cowboy-ish singalong. (Kapranos even sported a natty cattle-rustler's checked handkerchief to go with his black shirt.) Snow Patrol's audience, on the other hand, are radio competition winners - die-hard fans, to be sure, but required to engage with the world of corporate sponsorship to attend. Not that I could hear Colin complaining. After all, seeing Snow Patrol in King Tut's once involved a tumbleweed-strewn dancefloor and weathering tuneful but derivative and noisy indie rock. Now it involved seeing one of the biggest bands in the world in a venue where he could see the whites of Gary Lightbody's eyes.
Musically, too, the bands are polar opposites. Franz Ferdinand specialise in high-octane burners such as Michael, with which they opened. New song Favourite Lie, like the four others they premiered on Monday, was markedly heavier on the keyboards than their previous stuff, but no less energetic - it finished with a rabid blast of Italo-house piano and a furious, pounding rhythm. Snow Patrol, meanwhile, stuck closer to the mainstream. Their biggest hits - all of which delivered with smiling gusto - are camera-phones-aloft ballads, made to be sung by fields full of thousands of fans. Their music is artfully crafted, for sure, but Snow Patrol don't do art quite in the it-should-be-so-pretentious Franz Ferdinand manner. I wasn’t there myself but I did get to hear some of the songs on the radio the next day and from what I heard it was clear that Lightbody has finally found the key that enables him to command the audience. Although that might have been down to the fact that the audience were made of radio listeners who have been subjected to the songs for the past three or four years, certainly when the band played an older favourite Post Punk Progression much of the audience that had been up to that point playing the game and singing along to more recent hits Run (dedicated to Biffy Clyro) and Spitting Games, suddenly stopped doing so. But you can’t blame the audience for that, Post Punk Progression was from an time before Snow Patrol made it onto radio playlists.
In the Grand Ole Opry Franz Ferdinand managed similar devotion from the audience. On Monday I must have been in touch with my feminine side because I found myself aggressively tapping my feet to the guitar strumming hits of their first album, an album once described by Alex Kapranos as music for women to dance to, but if that’s so I’m not too bothered, I certainly wasn’t the only one having fun. Even when they played songs such as Shopping For Blood – an acid tale of modern, conspicuous consumption - and sounding like a band of outsiders, snarling as Western civilisation declines they still were able to make the song fun for its audience. There's a genuinely menacing streak in that song's glam-rock stomp, that contrasts nicely with the adrenaline-fuelled ecstasy of Take Me Out, during which the crowd sang that deadly riff over and over again.
These two bands are as different in approach and end result as you're likely to get when talking about million-selling artists, but they're the defining facets of Scottish music: the arty and the commercial, the louche and the hard-working. In their wake have come bands and artists who fall on both sides of the divide, and the fact there is room for these upstarts in the mainstream is a product of their success. And never mind that Snow Patrol are all Northern Irish, or that only one member of Franz Ferdinand is a bona-fide Scot - they're both bands steeped in Glasgow, in Scotland, and belong there as much as apple pie has a place in the good ole U S of A.