When the first fruits of Sparks and Franz Ferdinand’s collaboration emerged sounding just as you imagined they would, it was both a relief and a slight disappointment. They were exactly the sum of their (very good) parts; nothing more, nothing less. Live, it’s easier to see how these doyens of art rock from different decades have fired off each other creatively, as they swap instruments, interact musically and revel in each other’s company, while they deliver the best of each band’s back catalogue and cherries picked from their joint album. It’s an inspired piece of EIF programming, and gets a rapturous response.
For all that, it’s not clear they’ve fully worked out the division of labour yet. Ron Mael (keyboards) nestles in nicely and neatly with Franz’s instrumental trio; he always did seem like a man of impeccable manners and precision. But the two frontmen are a different proposition. Seldom do they duet, rarely do they spar, they both go at it full throttle, the centrepiece of their musical worlds. Alex Kapranos is the more open in his stagecraft; Russell Mael is focussed on belting out the songs. After forty years playing lead, it’s maybe not easy making room for another performer.
Musically, it’s a similar scenario, as the two styles fight for supremacy. Both bands appear to wear the trousers in this partnership, which makes for an urgency and spirit about the show, but at some point one needs to back down.
And when one does, we get lift off. It’s noticeable that the first time the audience are out of their seats is for Franz’s own Do You Want To?, setting a pattern for the rest of the gig. Sparks’ This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us is unimpeachable. (Mael doesn’t so much hit the final top note as launch it through the Festival Theatre roof. The man is nearly 70.) Franz’s Take Me Out goes down predictably well. Sparks’ When Do I Get To Sing My Way? which opens the encore is absolutely sublime, though meets a muted response – limited audience recognition, maybe?
Meanwhile, the collaborative stuff provides novelty and an opportunity for playfulness – a group piano session, Ron Mael doing one of his dances, a drum quartet. Radio hits Johnny Delusional and Call Girl do all the right things in the right places and the crowd lap them up, but they supplement rather than soar above the back catalogue material.
Franz and Sparks has been a so-obvious-when-you-think-of-it mash-up, and this gig goes down very well. It’s an Event (with a capital “E”), it’s a fascinating opportunity to see the interplay between art-rock generations, but it also just whets the appetite to see both bands on their own.