[ATTENDED: June 10, 2015] Belle and Sebastian
After the major hassle of getting into the city we at least had plenty of time for Belle and Sebastian (which meant plenty of time to take pictures of the awesome art deco structures and sculptures and paintings in Radio City Music Hall). It’s an amazing theater.
We bought the tickets in April. Then about two weeks ago we weren’t sure if we could go. Then we realized we could. And then three days ago, we had a miscommunication with our babysitter and thought we again couldn’t go. So we tried to sell them to friends. But thankfully no one took us up on it because our plans went as planned and we made it.
I had seen Belle and Sebastian back in 2002 with my friend Ailish. Although my memories of the show aren’t the greatest because the crowd was so overwhelming (B&S were an “it band” at the time). This was much more civilized. And high tech!
Back in 2002, B&S were kind of mellow folksingers. Some of their breakthrough If You’re Feeling Sisnister was bouncy and jaunty (and some was actually quite rocking), but the vibe was shushed and personal. Well, thirteen years later, they are a huge band with horns and strings and dancers and a cool video screen and a ton of charm. Just the fact that lead singer Stuart Murdoch ran around high-fiving everyone in the front row, and then later ran through the aisles singing is testament to how much more extroverted the band has become.
And Stuart and lead guitarist Stevie Jackson had a lot of amusing banter going on up there. There was a lengthy one about walking around Broadway
Stevie: “I was walking down Broadway earlier today, singing to myself…”
Stuart: “Oh, and what were you singing Stevie?”
Stevie: “It was Guys and Dolls.”
Stuart: “Oh, which part?”
Stevie belted out (very nicely) a line from the musical Stevie said he was a rocker who liked musicals. and then Stuart said he was singing “Feelin’ Groovy.” That’s when we learned that the trumpeter has played with Paul.
They played a lot of songs from their new album (the one I haven’t had enough time to listen to), but which Sarah likes a lot. The lead off was the lead off from the album. It opened with a gigantic video screen of a woman announcing that the band would be coming out (I thought perhaps there were technical glitches in the video but it’s unclear if there were glitches or if it was artsy).
The videos that accompanied “Nobody’s Empire” were black and white images and they were really impactful–really adding some poignancy to the already poignant lyrics. They followed this with “I’m a Cuckoo” one of four songs from Dear Catastrophe Waitress (and a major major highlight). It’s interesting that they played so many songs from that older album and none from The Life Pursuit which came after it (and which was the one album I chose to listen to before the show, whoops). “I’m a Cuckoo” really demonstrated how different the band had gotten since the quiet songs of old. It was boppy and dancey and Stuart Murdoch himself was dancing around in his black and white striped shirt.
It was after this song that he said they were going to have a party and launched into their near disco hit, “The Party Line.” This song featured a fun video (with circles and colored shadows of dancers (it also felt glitchy to me)), but it also featured live dancers. Four women came out and did a synchronized routine. I wondered if they were fans who had won a contest of something, but they were far too professional for that. (Stevie said he met them on the subway at breakfast). So that just added more people on stage.
And speaking of the number of people on stage, tonight there were a ton. In this sadly blurry picture, you can kind of see four string players in the back left as well as trumpeter. The rest of the band (amazingly everyone else on stage has been with the band since the beginning (although a few others have dropped out).
Sarah Martin was all over the place, playing keyboards, possibly cello, certainly guitar, possibly percussion. And some backing (and one lead) vocal. Chris Geddes was on keyboards (Stuart and Stevie and Sarah all played keyboards as well). Bobby Kildea played bass and electric guitar. Richard Colburn played a mean drum kit. You couldn’t really see him at all, but the various diverse songs were really a testament to his skill. I’m sure I’m missing someone, too.
The went back to their debut album for one of my favorite songs “The State I Am in.” This is a mellow song that did indeed begin with just Stuart and his character but which built to big chorus. They followed this with “Dirty Dream Number Two” from The Boy with the Arab Strap. This song really used the trumpet to good effect.
They followed this with “Perfect Couples.” This is a song on the new album which I knew of because Stevie sings it (his songs are different), but which I didn’t know very well. They opened it up by saying they felt like the Grateful Dead. They brought out bongos for Stuart to play and then they played an amazing video (which opened with the TV screen you see to the right–see how small the band are). The video was so mesmerizing that I wound up watching it instead of the band (which may be the point, right). [Incidentally you can see the video (with terrible audio) in this person’s upload from the Florida show ]. The song was great live and the end had a fantastic jam session.
After this they played a song I was really surprised to hear, “Piazza, New York Catcher.” I was even more surprised to hear that it was written about his wife (!). He sat down at the front of the stage to sing this, which was pretty cool.
I loved the rocking feel of “Allie” (which had a great video of a woman doing a cool interpretive dance on a table–it seemed to start a lot later than it should have–more glitches?) and the string fueled lovely ballad “The Cat with the Cream.”
After those two new songs, they went deep in the catalog again, with a fantastic version of “If You’re Feeling Sinister.” Then there was the only song from Fold Your Hands… “The Wrong Girl,” Stevie’s country song (the rage of country indie pop in 2000). He sang it with a distinctive country twang.
For “Dear Catastrophe Waitress,” the dancers came back out and did a kind of skit (complete with menu books). It was weird and fun to watch. The song itself also sounded quite different from the album–bigger and perhaps funkier?
For “The Boy with the Arab Strap” members of the audience with badges came out on stage and danced. It was interesting the way the very deliberately stayed away from the front of the stage. Even when Stuart tried to herd them all away from the corner they were hiding in, they still clumped together (see right). There were a couple who were into the spotlight, but I assume most B&S fans aren’t really into exhibition. Of course, the size of the Radio City stage allowed them to hide pretty easily.
Stuart reprimanded them for not doing enough to earn their badges and made them dance more during “I Didn’t See It Coming.” I love this song and on record, Sarah Martin’s lead vocals are amazing. But she came off a little flat live. Stuart did co lead for the next couple verses and they sounded very well together.
Incidentally that background also provided me with one of the better photos of the night (see below left).
The main set ended with “Sleep the Clock Around,” another song from Arab Strap (I was very surprised at the amount of songs from this album). There was a bagpipe player for the song but amazingly enough I could not hear her!
The encore was introduced by the same woman who introduced the band. I wish that I had gotten a complete video of her–I didn’t expect the audio to be so clear, but the video was crystal (and I can’t seem to upload it here, oh well).
For the encore, they played “Lazy Line Painter Jane,” one of my favorite early B&S songs. Guest vocals were handled by the Dum Dum Girls’ singer Dee Dee (I don’t really know them at all, but she did a very good job with the song).
And the final song was an outstanding version of “Judy and the Dream of Horses.” The crowd was mostly on its feet for this song and there was much singing along as the last chords faded.
I was really pleasantly surprised at how lively and fun the band (all of them) were. And overall I felt the show was a lot of fun and more than worth the hassle of getting into the City. Of course, leaving the City, we learned while waiting in traffic that the Lincoln Tunnel was under construction and so it took us an hour to get back to the other side of the river (no doubt the Holland Tunnel was wide open, but who would have guessed there wouldn’t be a ton of signs explaining the horrendous delays). That did not help my feelings about New York, let me tell you.
But I’ll continue to think that New York City is the greatest city in the world if I can keep hearing Stuart and Stevie talking about breathing in Times Square, watching the Mets and singing Broadway tunes.
Here’s one more picture from their giant screen.
You can see some truly great close up pictures done by BrooklynVegan at their site.
And here’s the set list.
- Nobody’s Empire (GiPWtD)
- I’m a Cuckoo (DCW)
- The Party Line (GiPWtD)
- The State I Am In (Tigermilk)
- Dirty Dream Number Two (BwTAS)
- Perfect Couples (GiPWtD)
- Piazza, New York Catcher (DCW)
- Allie (GiPWtD)
- The Cat With the Cream (GiPWtD)
- If You’re Feeling Sinister (IYFS)
- The Wrong Girl (FYH)
- Dear Catastrophe Waitress (DCW)
- If You Find Yourself Caught in Love (DCW)
- The Boy with the Arab Strap (BwTAS)
- I Didn’t See It Coming (WaL)
- Sleep the Clock Around (BwTAS)
- Lazy Line Painter Jane (LLPJ)
- Judy and the Dream of Horses (IYFS)