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Franz Nicolay, Cafe Tarifa Oxford

March 18, 2010

Franz Nicolay is now referred to with ‘formerly of The Hold Steady’ attached to his name as if it were a part of it, like an extension of his surname. It is hardly fair to use such a thing to identify him though, as Franz Nicolay has lent his musical talents to far more than The Hold Steady.

Tonight he is playing as the final act at a Cabaret style event and he walks into the allocated performance space to set up his guitar, banjo & accordion while people pile in to sit on the mis-matched furniture that surround him. He introduces each song with a story, by way of explanation of how the song came to be written and once he begins singing it is easy to pinpoint parts of the story in his lyrics. He tells of how he supported The Dead Kennedy’s when they reformed without singer Jello Biafra. Jeff Penalty took over vocal duties and as Franz watched the show from the sidelines it was obvious that the crowd didn’t care, they just lost themselves in being able to see a band they loved so dearly, even if it was minus one member. You can feel this in the lyrics to Jeff Penalty when he sings the words ‘It was the greatest karaoke show I had ever seen’ and finished up with ‘I’m sorry Jeff Penalty if we didn’t take you serious / but the punks all still sang along’. It is this ability to relay a story via his lyrics that is one of Franz’s greatest talents and it is not lost here as there is complete silence while he plays, everyone’s attention keenly focused on the mousatchioed multi-instrumentalist in front of them pouring out stories in verse.

Franz Nicolay is cut from the old school of performers, constantly referring to the fact that he is in ‘show business’ instead of part of some ‘scene’ or genre that many performers align themselves to. He manages to pull off being simultaneously professional and informal, addressing those in front of him as if they were friends instead of audience members and responding jovially to those who shout or heckle him in between songs and it is a welcome break from the endless wave of weary boys in bands acting like they have something to prove. All Franz needs from this is the ability to play music, to be a showman and to capture that era of Vaudeville that he somehow manages to personify and that is exactly what he brought here tonight and everyone is grateful to have been able to experience it.

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