Thursday, October 15, 2015

Franz Ferdinand+Sparks = FFS concert review: Los Angeles

When Franz Ferdinand broke big here with its debut album and hit single “Take Me Out” in 2004, the guys crossed paths with Sparks and discussed writing songs together. A couple of demos were created, but nothing else happened.

Nearly a decade later, the subject came up again during a chance encounter in San Francisco. This time, several lyrics were traded via email. Both acts played the 2013 Coachella festival and finally found time to enter the studio. Using the moniker FFS, their adventurous self-titled album came out last June and combines the best of both music worlds.

Onstage at the Wiltern, the Glasgow alt-rock band (Franz Ferdinand) and veteran Los Angeles new wave sibling duo (Sparks) seamlessly combined forces. Their invigorating 80-minute set comprised the entire new release, plus a few popular tracks from each catalog.

Russell Mael was clad in a striped poncho. He and Alex Kapranos had a comfortable rapport while trading verses and came off like they'd been singing side by side for years. The latter younger musician engaged in plenty of leg kicks and frequently jumped around.

FFS launched with the enthusiastic “Johnny Delusional,” elevated by Russell Mael’s famous theatrical inflections and mild-mannered brother Ron’s classical keyboard flourishes. The jittery “Man Without a Tan” humorously described a debonair gentleman who woos the ladies “with a little bit of Liszt.”

Other highly catchy tunes included the intense “Police Encounters,” an exquisite, French-influenced “Sõ Desu Ne,” ultra-dramatic “Save Me from Myself” (Kapranos ended up kneeling, hands clasped in prayer) and groove-laden dance rocker “Call Girl.”

Concertgoers went crazy for beefy Franz modern rock radio hits “Do You Want To?” and “Take Me Out” (where three of the musicians pogoed and Ron added jingling sounds), not to mention Sparks’ “The No. 1 Song in Heaven” – a lush 1979 Eurodisco pairing with Giorgio Moroder that went top 20 in England.

A bespectacled Ron even did his trademark exaggerated “happy dance” across the stage as everyone pounded on extra drums. 

It segued into a frantic, denser-than-usual take on Franz Ferdinand's male seduction tune “Michael.” Both Kapranos and guitarist/singer Nick McCarthy played with their electric guitars aloft.

A scintillating “This Town Ain't Big Enough for the Both of Us,” Sparks' most successful U.K. charter from 1974, clearly benefitted most from the extra musical heft brought by both groups. Finally, FFS capped the lively evening with the sarcastic and ambitious new suite, “Collaborations Don't Work.”

In L.A., the opposite proved true.

Photos by Drew A. Kelley. My review originally appeared at

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