When you name a band Franz Ferdinand -- after the Austrian archduke whose assassination sparked the First World War and led to a far-reaching realignment of global power -- either you have a deep sense of a history or an impish sense of humor. It could mean "We will ignite a bonfire and change rock for a good long time," or "Dance, everybody, and while you're at it, dig our goofy name."
The Scottish quartet that played the 9:30 club Sunday night couldn't possibly have international upheaval on its collective mind. Revolutionaries, for one thing, tend to take themselves too seriously, and nobody will accuse the FF boys of that. For 60 fiery and unblushing minutes, they leaped, swiveled and did slow, Elvis Presley-style arm sweeps that probably came across as provocative in the late '50s. Lead singer and guitarist Alex Kapranos smiled a lot, and when he returned for a two-song encore, his shirt was unbuttoned -- a breach of indie rock's anti-exhibitionism rule if there ever was one.
It's an attitude that sparkles through the band's self-titled debut album, which was released in March and hailed by the British press with the sorts of reviews that can doom a young band. ("Best new band in Britain," raved the music magazine NME.) Their abundant lack of gloom sets them starkly apart from the fashionably aloof, slightly retro bands they have borrowed from and now will compete against, most notably the Strokes and Interpol.
The branch of the family tree from which all of these bands descend has some pretty dour and depressive relatives in its recent past. New Order and the Cure are particular inspirations to Franz Ferdinand (as are more cheerful Brit-pop standard-bearers, like Blur, whose 1994 tune "Girls and Boys" is echoed time and again on FF's album.) But if Kapranos and co-songwriter and co-singer/guitarist Nick McCarthy brood in their lyrics about breakups and romantic disappointments, they bury those sentiments under chirpy beats and harmonized choruses that turn every song into a dance number.
The disco-fied "This Fire" is about a guy so enraged by something or other that he wants to set his city ablaze. Without a lyric sheet, you'd never guess that "Cheating on You" is a nasty get-lost to an unfaithful girlfriend -- between their brogue and how low the vocals were mixed, it was hard to tell what Kapranos and McCarthy were singing, for starters. But the music has a happy-hour glow that simply obliterates the darkness of the words. It's as though Franz Ferdinand learned at the feet of some grim-faced masters, then realized their own outlook was too sunny and their own personalities too extroverted to bum anyone out or to feign anxiety.
In part, that's because they're addicted to a fast, almost campy tempo that had everyone at the 9:30 in motion for almost the entire show. It gets difficult to tell Franz Ferdinand's songs apart after a while because they all eventually follow the same jumping-jack beat and most of them land with the all-at-once finality and thunk of a lawn dart. The charitable take is that, at least for the time being, they're specialists. They do one thing and they do it very well.