Collaborations do work: FFS, Edinburgh Festival Theatre, 24 August 2015


I may be wrong, but tonight I got the impression that the Festival Theatre doesn’t usually have much truck with these new fangled “pop concerts”. On the way to our seats in the Dress Circle we were politely but firmly informed by an usher that, for “safety reasons”, the venue has a strict “no standing” policy. I wished her good luck with that and took my seat. The crowd’s appreciation for this collaboration between Franz Ferdinand – one of Scotland’s top indie bands of the past decade or so – and Sparks, legends of some four decades’ standing, would make it a trying evening for the theatre’s unfortunate security staff, more used to dealing with ballet and opera audiences (although some of those Pavarotti supporters could get pretty rowdy back in the day).

We did remain seated for the support band Slug, although that’s not to say they didn’t go down well: pleasingly odd rockers like Cockeyed Rabbit Wrapped In Plastic and Greasy Mind brought to mind shades of Super Furry Animals or even They Might Be Giants, although the band’s confident, dextrous musicianship makes them hard to pigeonhole and they would probably argue that they sound nothing like either of those bands. Slug mainman Ian Black seemed genuinely chuffed to be supporting FFS, despite a guitar that wouldn’t stay in tune and his bemoaning of the fact that he had to be back at work on Wednesday. This is a band with great things ahead of them, although they might want to consider changing out of the sailor suits if they have an eye on mainstream success.

Having been buoyed up by the enjoyable strangeness of Slug, the crowd soon cooled off again during the lengthy gap as their gear was dismantled and the headline act’s equipment brought on. The Festival Theatre’s attempts to pass this off as an “interval” was painfully transparent, although it did provide an excuse for many to get another drink. A frisson of excitement went through those of us who stayed in our seats as the roadies brought on Ron Mael’s famous Roland Ronald keyboard, and eventually the house lights went down again.

Despite having been a fan of Sparks since before Franz Ferdinand were old enough to hold their instruments, this was the first time I’d seen the Maels in the flesh (I saw Franz Ferdinand in one of the atmosphere-free aircraft hangars of Glasgow’s SECC a decade ago), so for a while it was difficult to process FFS as one band rather than Ron and Russell Mael standing amongst the members of FF. I suspect most of the audience had the same problem; although the two bands gel perfectly together and the opening salvo of tracks from the eponymous FFS album were well received, it was the arrival of Franz’s Do You Want To? that first got the crowd on its feet. This, of course, incurred the wrath of the venue’s security, although at this stage this simply involved politely asking people to sit down.

A few more FFS songs followed, culminating in the strangely Kraftwerk-esque So Desu Ne which saw Franz’s Nick McCarthy and Bob Hardy take over Ron’s keyboard, playing it together while Ron adopted a supervisory role at the back of the stage. By the end of the song Alex Kapranos and and Russell Mael had joined the other two at the keyboard, each of them prodding tentatively at it to produce something approaching a tune. This was the cue for Ron to come back and take over, the lights dimming and the crowd gradually going mental as they recognised the opening strains of The Number One Song In Heaven. This brought large sections of the crowd to their feet and a stern looking security guard to the front of the stage, his purpose unknown although he gave the impression of being there simply to stop people enjoying themselves. His unwelcome presence didn’t go unnoticed; during the song’s instrumental break the customarily stoic Ron Mael ventured out from behind his keyboard to sneak up behind the security guard, looking at him inquisitively like a cat pondering a toy mouse. Fortunately Ron stopped short of batting him around the head in a feline manner and instead took centre stage for a full scale Fred Astaire dance routine, to the delight of the crowd whose cheers and whistles just made the security guard more suspicious.

Regaining his composure, Ron straightened his tie and returned to his comfort zone behind the keyboard as versions of Michael (in which Alex Kapranos also appeared to be invading Unnecessary Security Guard Man’s personal space) and This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both Of Us fuelled the crowd’s frenzy and made security’s job increasingly difficult. This Town… was a particular highlight of the show; Sparks have collaborated with other bands before, most notably on their 1997 album Plagiarism, but on that occasion their accomplices were either too similar (Erasure, Jimmy Somerville) or too different (Faith No More) to provide a truly satisfying result. In Franz Ferdinand, Russell and Ron have found the perfect complement, so that by this stage of the show FFS felt like a proper cohesive band rather than two acts on stage at the same time.

With the show drawing to a close, the long-awaited appearance of Take Me Out was the catalyst the crowd needed to finally defy the “No standing” policy en masse. The sheer number of people unable to resist the urge to dance caused a major panic among the security staff; when the act of shining their stupid little strobe torches into the elated dancers’ faces failed to make them sit back down, security had no other course of action other than to look on disapprovingly. It probably didn’t help that as the song came to an end and the staff resumed their efforts to ask people to sit down, FFS launched into the brazenly titled Piss Off. Perhaps fortunately, this was the last song of the set and the band departed the stage before security could bring the show to a halt. This didn’t placate the crowd, of course; rather it brought more and more of us to our feet to demand an encore. The band duly obliged, rampaging through When Do I Get To Sing “My Way”? and two more tracks from the FFS album, Call Girl and the oh-so-ironically titled Collaborations Don’t Work. By the end of the show, nobody was in any doubt that this one does. The only remaining unanswered question as we filed out past the merchandise stand was whether it would be appropriate to turn up to work the next day in a T-shirt with “PISS OFF” emblazoned on it…

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