Franz Ferdinand @ Tower Theater: Upper Darby, PA

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Live music is worth it. It just is.

Not all live music, of course. Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of live acts that just don’t live up to the hype. I don’t need to relive my Mumford & Sons experience. Of course, that Mumford show lingered in the back of my mind when I committed to drive across the broad state of Pennsylvania to attend the Franz Ferdinand show at the Tower Theater. That’s 4 1/2 hours driving each way. That’s the cost of a hotel room. Plus whatever other unexpected obstacles would present themselves along the way.

My wife and I went back and forth for a week about whether to go. I waffled! I admit! And I’m the guy that’s been wanting to see Franz Ferdinand since he first saw the “Take Me Out” video on MTV, now almost a decade ago. That’s a long damn time to wait. I’ve written intermittently about the cathartic power of live music. All the what-ifs and worries shouldn’t have tormented me. Another night on the couch catching up on movies I’d DVR’d off TCM or Franz Ferdinand in Philadelphia? The choice should have been a simple one.

But then again… there was that Mumford show or, as I’ve come to call it (as of five seconds ago), THE INTERMINABLE FIASCO. As I sat in the parking lot going on three hours of immobility how I wished I was at home watching one of those DVR’d Turner Classic Movies.

Thankfully my wife talked me out of this madness. “It’s Franz Ferdinand. You go.”

And so we did.  We left the kids with my mom and dad and crossed the expansive nothingness between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Can I just say how easy it is to travel without children? Omigod. That drive felt like a cool summer breeze on the backs of woodland fairies. We pulled into hotel valet, checked the car and hurried in to grab our room, drop our bags and find some dinner before the show.

“We’re sorry. We’ve been trying to contact you. We overbooked. But we found you accommodations in the Holiday Inn Express. It’s only 6 miles away.”

First of all, in what world is the Holiday Inn Express — a Holiday Inn Express 6 miles away — comparable to the Sofitel a block away from the SEPTA train that drops me off a block from the Tower Theater? Second, Eagles fans really shouldn’t get excited enough to book all of the City Center lodging. Calm down, Eagles fans. But this is good to know for future reference. It only took a few calls and offers of $700 rooms to know that we’d been beaten by the city and professional football. So we’ll save a few bucks by driving back out to Valley Forge after the show. No biggie. Annoying, but no biggie.

Food. Train. Tower Theater. All a breeze.

We were pretty tired, as parents generally are. Add in a five hour drive and a scurry around Rittenhouse Square looking for grub and that 6:30am daily wake-up call really takes its toll. Could have used a nap. Instead I had a big ass cup of Walt Wit from the bar at Tower. Pretty sure there’s an old Irish adage: fight tired with beer.

Frankie Rose opened. I quite disliked the first record, aside from a few standout tracks. I didn’t bother listening to her newly released sophomore effort. Her awkward stage presence might have been the most notable thing about her act if not for the revelatory bass. With the bass drum and bass guitar cranked up to 11 in the Tower, her music found some life. Her studio recordings do not boast the same mix, although once you hear a mix like that, you cannot un-hear it. Some of that residual enjoyment has carried over onto recordings. I can appreciate it, even if I still find it overall not especially worth the hype. Still, the show gave this song new life:

And as Frankie Rose disappeared, awkwardly, backstage, there was only one matter left to attend to. Franz. As I contemplated the utility of another beer in my struggle to stave off the groggies, something magical happened.

This guitar riff:

Really, when it comes right down to it, is there anything better than a great guitar riff to get the blood flowing again? That riff, to a fan of Franz Ferdinand, is Pavlov’s bell. I started drooling, I’m certain. Calling it iconic might be overselling, but goddammit that’s how it felt. Universal. Iconic. Rejuvenating.

Franz Ferdinand @ Tower Theater

…and worth every mile traveled tenfold. Every great thing that’s been written about Franz Ferdinand’s live show is spot on. Alex Kapranos bounced around the stage like few frontmen I’ve ever seen live, finding a perfect balance between rock-tensity and charm. I’ve never seen The Rolling Stones live but based on recorded performances, Alex recalls Mick Jagger (albeit with less snarl). Someone out there is screaming “Heresy!” But unless you’ve seen Franz, that argument’s got no legs here, pal. Bugger off. On guitar, Nick McCarthy holsters his guitar high, almost in his armpits. The effect is like a gunfighter preparing for a shootout. This added to the intensity of his playing, embellishing the brazen guitar slinging.

Though most shows in a seated venue tend to lag, Franz Ferdinand kept everyone out of their sets.

The highlight might have been those first few bars of “Take Me Out” when the entire first 20 or so rows bounced along with McCarthy’s riff in unison. That shared love of music among a community of people is a powerful thing. The rest of the evening is a blur of heavy guitar, questioning whether or not Franz had played “Right Action,” the first single off their new record (they hadn’t, curiously enough), the train again, the drive back out to Valley Forge. Then sleep, with that opening of “Matinee” still ringing in my ears.

Truth is, it’s still there. And I hope to never lose it.

Setlist:

The Dark of the Matinée
Bullet
Do You Want To?
Tell Her Tonight
Evil Eye
No You Girls
Walk Away
Stand on the Horizon
Can’t Stop Feeling
I Feel Love (original)
(Donna Summer cover)
Brief Encounters
Michael
Take Me Out
Love Illumination
Ulysses
This Fire
Goodbye Lovers & Friends

Encore:
Darts of Pleasure
Treason! Animals.
The Fallen

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