Surprise Guests Franz Ferdinand Steal 'Sounds Eclectic' Show

Scottish rockers join Death Cab at radio benefit; Ziggy Marley, Ben Harper share stage.

UNIVERSAL CITY, California — There's always a few welcome surprises at KCRW-FM's annual A Sounds Eclectic Evening, but this year's concert featured one after another.

There were surprise sets (Franz Ferdinand, Spoon singer Britt Daniel), surprise collaborations (Ben Harper with Gomez, Ziggy Marley with Harper), and for Australian singer Sia, a surprise standing ovation from the Gibson Amphitheatre audience Saturday.

Franz's appearance was predicted by some since the Scottish dance rockers are touring with the benefit's headliners, Death Cab for Cutie. Franz Ferdinand brought a ferocious energy to what had mostly been an acoustic showcase, put on by the taste-making Santa Monica-based public radio station.

Opening with "Do You Want To," Franz instantly brought crowd members to their feet and kept them there with dance-floor favorites from 2005's You Could Have It So Much Better. After "The Fallen" and "Walk Away," both subtly rearranged from their album versions, the band slowed down slightly with singer Alex Kapranos announcing "Eleanor Put Your Boots On" as being "about missing someone across the Atlantic."

For the second half of their set, Franz went back to their self-titled debut, showcasing guitarist Nick McCarthy's mouth-watering hooks on tracks like "Michael" and "This Fire."

"The first radio station to invite us on in the States was KCRW," Kapranos said in introducing "Take Me Out." "And this was the first song we played."

In their closing slot, Death Cab followed Franz by relying mostly on their high-energy tracks, opening with "The New Year" and getting to single "Soul Meets Body" four songs in. Singer Ben Gibbard and cohorts also kept things interesting by switching around instruments, adding keyboards to various tunes, and playfully commenting on the dissipating audience. "I will not be silenced by your indifference," Gibbard deadpanned.

Earlier, former Jamiroquai backup singer Sia, filling in last minute for Lewis Taylor, balanced her smoky, seductive voice with a charming giddiness as she giggled her way through a 30-minute set. When she stopped a new tune because she and her band had screwed up and insisted they start over, the crowd ate up her honesty.

Check out photos from KCRW's A Sounds Eclectic Evening In Universal City, California, 3.25.2006.

Sia had played A Sounds Eclectic Evening once before, with Zero 7, and paid tribute to her British friends with a rendition of "Somersault." Her clear standout was "Breathe Me," the song featured in the final scene of the "Six Feet Under" finale that has given her 2004 album, Colour the Small One, new legs.

Gomez — made up of principal songwriters Ben Ottewell, Tom Gray and Ian Ball for the show — mainly used the set to introduce their new album, How We Operate, and ear-catching tunes like the title track and "Girlshapedlovedrug."

For one track, though, the British band called on technology, using a laptop to connect with its rhythm section from a studio back home. "I can't believe that actually worked," Gray joked afterward.

To close their set, Gomez welcomed Harper, who played slide guitar on a Hawaiian-style version of the band's 1998 breakthrough single, "Whippin' Piccadilly."

During the set with his Innocent Criminals band, which included a four-piece string section, Harper also used a special guest to amplify a tune. While jamming through "With My Own Two Hands," the group segued into Bob Marley's "War," and Ziggy Marley took the stage to handle vocals.

Harper also showcased his new double record, the just-released Both Sides of the Gun, channeling his Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield influences and focusing on some of the most political tunes, like "Engraved Invitation," "Better Way" and "Black Rain," about the Hurricane Katrina aftermath.

Spoon's Daniel, accompanied only by a pianist, was the other unannounced guest. Highlights included the toe-tapper "Way We Get By" and a cover of John Lennon's "Isolation."

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