Sunday, April 19

What's the purpose of visual effects in a live rock performance? Are they supposed to make up for some shortcoming by misdirecting us with spectacle? Or are they just the proverbial cherry on the sundae, adding another component to what's already entirely satisfying? Isn't it supposed to just be about the music?

It's been a while since I've seen a band that incorporated major effects into their live show, so my mind was kind of boggled by the sophistication and detail of Sunday night's performance by Scottish alt-rockers Franz Ferdinand: A backdrop grid of shiny squares that doubled as both a projection screen and objet d'art (evoking marbled shower tiles when not illuminated; when lit, it looked like a retro computer universe similar to the one Jeff Bridges stumbled through in Tron). Six conspicuous monoliths resembling restaurant-patio heat lamps flashing lavender bursts of light. Projected images of alien suns, voodoo monkey masks, neon pin-up girls and German shepherds.

These kind of details remind you: Oh yeah, we're seeing a rich band.

Not that there's anything wrong with pure spectacle. From Kiss to Gwar to, say, Madonna, rock concerts dripping with excess and theatricality are par for the course. But a band or performer lacking a certain kind of inherent drama might get upstaged by their own glitz. That might have been the case Sunday night, though it's difficult to be too hard on Franz Ferdinand, if for no other reason than Alex Kapranos' sex appeal. I can't find any fault with their renditions of the songs. Consisting mostly of work from their latest, Tonight: Franz Ferdinand, and their eponymous debut (almost entirely overlooking 2005's excellent You Could Have It So Much Better), their set sounded great.

Somehow, though, the band seemed to be undone by all the extras. Their energy seemed relatively flat—not corpse-like, just underwhelmed. To be fair, Nick McCarthy was on crutches. Yet the light show and counterintuitive imagery reeked more of record-label packaging than artistic expression, all in a way that appealed to the lowest common denominator, as if the audience were incapable of sophistication or insight.

Again, it was really impressive in the sense that it was large-scale, brightly colored and repetitive. But I've never been one to choose my desserts for the garnish.