SOME AROUSAL, SOME CAROUSAL
The only time I had previously had the opportunity to see Belle & Sebastian live was on September 12, 2001. That was the last time they came through Portland, and given the significance of that date, it was a rather odd show. Most of the audience hadn't really been out of the house during the previous thirty-six hours. For me, it was the first time I wasn't sleeping when the TV had been turned off. No one really knew if we should be there, but we didn't know what else to do. The band came out and did an a cappella cover of "Turn, Turn, Turn," and then after acknowledging the tragedy of the previous day, did their best to create a space away from it for a little while. It was cathartic for all involved.
So, it was with much anticipation that I went to Thursday's show at the Roseland, the exact same place I had seen them before. With a fantastic new album, The Life Pursuit, under their belt, I was excited to finally see the band in their more appropriate context. Joëlle --who was kind enough to accompany me for the evening--had never seen them at all, so it was her real first time. The concert had sold out shortly after going on sale, and expectations were high.
The New Pornographers opened, and we missed most of their set. Thankfully. Everyone keeps telling me I will love this band, but every time I have tried, I can't ever figure out why. My impression last night was that someone needed to tell them this was not 1997 and we are not in Chapel Hill.
Between sets, I spotted comics artist Vera Brosgol and freaked her out by knowing who she was. We met last fall for all of two seconds, so she could be forgiven for not remembering my face. Plus, I was decked out in my silver sharkskin suit, so that was all people were seeing anyway. Black shirt, silver tie, suede-topped black hushpuppies--I was hot. Someone needs to lock this down. (Of course, when I'm hanging with Joëlle --who looked lovely with her hair up and a fitted black shirt--I have to work extra hard not to be the runt of the litter.)
Belle & Sebastian opened with "The State I Am In" and then played a set that drew heavily from both sides of their career, drawing mainly from the first two and the last two albums. There were some real surprises, like "Electronic Renaissance," and a lot of old favorites like "Belle & Sebastian" and "Get Me Away From Here, I'm Dying." The Life Pursuit material was even better in the live arena, sounding refreshed once a little of the polish had been scraped off. "White Collar Boy," "Dress Up In You," and "Sukie in the Graveyard" were all really strong. I was impressed overall by how tight the band was, and Stuart Murdoch's singing was more self-assured than his previous reputation would have suggested. The band is still large and unwieldy, with members coming on and off stage and changing instruments frequently, but they had their timing down and there were no flubs. The sound man deserves special credit for keeping everything clear.
Back in 2001, the band performed a new song called "Portland, Oregon" that they had written that day. I promptly forgot about it, but the band surprisingly didn't. It's not a massive song, by any means, I don't even think it's been finished, but it was a treat to have now heard it the only two times it's ever been performed.
The real showstopper, though, was "You Cover's Blown," the self-described indie "Bohemian Rhapsody" that was a double A-side with "Wrapped Up In Books." The song has multiple parts, shifting tempos and styles at the snapping of fingers, but everything was in its right place. During the big techno moment where the characters in the song are out at the clubs, Stuart got on the monitor and hung over the crowd, mimicking the dancers and a DJ spinning records. Beyond the quality of his singing, he's really amped up his stage presence. His between-song banter was amusing and natural, and his spastic dancing was a little Ian Curtis-ish (an allusion aided by his resemblance to the actor who played Curtis in 24-Hour Party People). He's a unique frontman, as his charisma is equaled by his genial nature. He's a star while also seeming like your best friend from down the coffee shop.
The main set closed with "Judy and the Dream of Horses," and you could feel the swell of excitement as it rippled through the crowd. I thought Joëlle might leap over the people in front of us and make a mad dash for the stage when the recognition of the opening chords hit her. Our love was well-placed, as the performance was love in itself.
Belle & Sebastian encores are reserved for requests, and though we wanted "Meat & Potatoes," Joëlle and I were a little too far back to be in the ensuing melee of title shouting. Ultimately, the band chose "Expectations" and "Lazy Line Painter Jane." They only agreed on the second one after a girl in the audience volunteered to take the female lead. Her name was Amy and she looked the part of a Belle & Sebastian fan, with her long pigtails, glasses, little tweed coat, and plaid skirt. She did an amazing job. Once she got her confidence going, her only flaw was bopping her head so much, she kept turning her mouth from the microphone. Still, that's no real complaint. To snap into a band that well, and do it in front of a big crowd, is really impressive.
Sadly, my own little bedroom fantasy for the night did not come through. At no point did Stuart Murdoch say, "Ladies and gentleman, we have a comic book on sale in the back. One of the stories was written by a Portland citizen, Jamie S. Rich, and we hope he's here tonight because he's brilliant. This is a song called 'Marx & Engels,' and it's for you, Jamie." Alas, it was not to be....
I don't get out to concerts much anymore, so when I do go, I want it to deliver. Belle & Sebastian delivered, and how. We were elated as we left the club. Not even the return of the rain could get us down. In fact, it was almost too perfect to step into the night air, our ears buzzing with the fading sound of music, and feel the cold water on our faces.
Current Soundtrack: OMD, Liberator
Current Mood: restless
[to leave comments, click on the time-stamp below, then scroll down on the new page] – All text (c) 2006 Jamie S. Rich