Editor’s Note: All photos by Christine Hunt, and you can also find Jonathan Donaldson's Write About Love album review here.
Lots have changed since the last time I caught Belle & Sebastian, at Boston University’s Morse Auditorium back on October 21, 1998. The band lost “Belle” (singer/cellist Isobel Campbell) but added a string quintet. Wires and a borrowed upright piano were replaced by stacks of synthesizers and a wireless microphone for leader Stuart Murdoch to hold while prancing around the 3,000-plus-person Wang Center. And t-shirts were now $30 instead of $20 (inflation is a bitch). But otherwise, much about Belle & Sebastian has stayed the same. The Scottish popsters remain as congenial as ever — regarding the crowd warmly with sly humor and invitations to join the fun.
“You sound like Roman slaves,” Murdoch joked to the audience as they sang along to on the new song, “I’m Not Living in the Real World.” He even invited members of the audience up on-stage to dance during, the super-funky “I Didn’t See It Coming,” also from their latest LP, Write About Love (Matador). Unlike most bands who are too cool for school and will barely acknowledge the crowd (let alone give then medals for dancing), Belle and Sebastian continue to graciously court the rock gods to see what kind of good can come of their mischief …just as they did at BU in ’98, when they invited anyone to play the recital piano at the foot of the stage as long as they knew the chords (which no one did).
Fans of the old-school chamber-pop sound as well as the slicker sound of the newer records were both taken care of tonight by their Scottish cousins. Or very-well should have felt so. “The State I Am In” and “We Rule The School” from their debut, Tigermilk, fluttered-by like bittersweet and precocious memories. As Murdoch sat to the piano to play “School,” he remarked that it was fun to learn this one again. “Mayfly” and the title cut from 1996’s If You’re Feeling Sinister were gorgeous reminders of the once sloppy and charming band that now plays with such polish and confidence. But really it was a trio of numbers from 1998’s The Boy With The Arab Strap that invigorated tonight’s house with Belle & Sebastian’s infectious joie de vivre – “Dirty Dream #2,” “The Boy With The Arab Strap,” and “Sleep The Clock Around” reminded us that this was a band that (while mopey at times) always wanted to dance. And it only got better.
Segueing to “I’m A Cuckoo” from 2003’s Dear Catastrophe Waitress — and just watching Murdoch act out the lyrics before grabbing an electric guitar to play the solo — it just seemed like Belle & Sebastian could do anything if they want to. “Sukie In The Graveyard” and the ever-soulful “Funny Little Frog” (both from 2006’s The Life Pursuit) reached upwards to the heights of the purely-pop atmosphere that seems to be their real bag right nowadays. But nothing really came close to the deliriously exuberant encore, “If You Find Yourself Caught In Love” — a song that sums up everything from the romantic, political, spiritual, etc., and to top that off with Murdoch running all over the Wang in his pinstriped sailor sweater, hi-fiving fans. Really, I was as breathless as this run-on sentence.
Confirming how special of a show this was, Murdoch wrote this on Belle & Sebastian’s website just two days later: "I still feel, a couple of days after, that the Boston show was one of the finest I've ever had the privilege of being involved in. it was like surfing a perfect wave."
As Stu might say, “pretty cool.”
10.15.10 Belle & Sebastian setlist
1. I Fought in a War
2. Dirty Dream # 2
3. Piazza, New York Catcher
4. I'm Not Living in the Real World
5. If You're Feeling Sinister
6. Lord Anthony
7. I Want the World to Stop
8. Sukie in the Graveyard
9. We Rule the School
10. (I Believe In) Travellin' Light
12. Funny Little Frog
13. I Didn't See It Coming
14. The Boy With the Arab Strap
15. I'm a Cuckoo
16. The State I Am In
17. Sleep the Clock Around
18. If You Find Yourself Caught in Love