Live Review: Belle & Sebastian (If You’re Feeling Ministerial)

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Belle & Sebastian live: Stuart Murdoch and some newfound friends nail those harmonies.

Belle & Sebastian

Central Hall Westminster, London (11/03/15)

As you’d probably expect from “the whitest band alive“, there was little to appease hard-nosed cynics at Belle & Sebastian’s opening night at Westminster’s Methodist Central Hall. With the aftermath of the Parliamentary General Election still casting a long shadow over this neck of the woods, the prospect of wispy, keening pop music from the troupe who brought us ‘Dear Catastrophe Waitress’ surely lacks mass appeal. Thankfully though, B&S have always been unashamed of their fey mannerisms and chirpy tunes, and those willing to embrace the night’s sock-hoppy vibe found pleasure in abundance. As Stuart Murdoch chuckled halfway during the evening, “there’s no irony on this stage”. At this particular juncture, that suited me – and most of the 2,000-strong crowd – pretty fine.

Head-scratching in theory – but thoroughly impressive in execution – was the booking of Lower Dens as the band’s support act. The Baltimore four-piece have steadily assembled an excellent catalogue of sleek, humming, and stirring drone-pop, and while this year’s Escape From Evil has honed the band’s pop chops, their creations are still a far cry from B&S’ signature jangle. Yet Lower Dens steamed through their performance with a poise and sensuality which swiftly earned appreciation from the audience. All four members maintained mystique through taut control, delivering their new-wave thrums in tight-knit, unshowy fashion. Over nimble bass runs and spare, sparkling guitar melodies, the commanding Jana Hunter bathed the hall in a cool, steamy aura; ‘Ondine’ and ‘To Die in LA’ showcasing her ceiling-scraping vocal power at its most stunning.

The expansive Belle & Sebastian coterie marched onstage following a 30-minute screening of an old-timey documentary about the city of Glasgow, and the huge projector screen was utilised repeatedly throughout the set to provide nifty backdrops to the band’s antics. Kicking into the warm anthem ‘Nobody’s Empire’, the band received rapturous applause from the get-go, though for all the supposed adoration, the crowd never fully gave themselves over to joyous noodling, even during peppy numbers such as ‘The Party Line’ and ‘Sleep the Clock Around’. A Canadian woman just behind me spent much of the former’s rendition shrieking in bewilderment, “why aren’t more of these people dancing?”

Given that the band’s major demographic probably favour lapsang souchong to Beck’s by the bottleful, it wasn’t much of a surprise that much of the crowd remained static, even while Murdoch strutted his stuff smoothly front-and-centre. Nonetheless, the show was a lovely display of good ol’ clean fun, with the show highlights also those which would make the unconverted cringe with schmaltzy nausea. Fittingly for the venue’s nature, Murdoch presided over an on-stage marriage proposal before the mellifluous ‘Piazza, New York Catcher’, and invited a banner-bearing fan up for a pretty adorable jig during ‘Jonathan David’. The requisite invasion-cum-party during ‘The Boy with the Arab Strap’ crowned the night brilliantly, with a dozen or so goggle-eyed fans careering excitedly around the stage as the main crowd gently bobbed along to the earworms.

They may be “the whitest band alive”, but to paraphrase Murdoch himself, sometimes it’s nice to be nice. And in the context of the ugliness displayed in the same area just a few days ago, B&S’ show was a welcome dose of warmth in the heart of the capital.

Setlist

Nobody’s Empire // La Pastie de la Bourgeoisie // The Party Line // We Rule the School // Wrapped Up in Books // Piggy in the Middle // Perfect Couples // Piazza, New York Catcher // Electronic Renaissance // The Book of You // Jonathan David // I Didn’t See it Coming // A Summer Wasting // The Boy with the Arab Strap // Legal Man // Sleep the Clock Around // There’s Too Much Love // Photo Jenny

13/05/15

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Posted on May 13, 2015, in The Music World and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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