Belle & Sebastian at The Fox Theater, by Joshua Huver

Belle & Sebastian (photo: Joshua Huver)

On Monday night, June 25, an unusually energetic crowd of indie rock fans flocked to the Fox Theater in Oakland for Belle & Sebastian, the unquestioned Scottish royalty of emotionally-laden pop songs. The show marked the band's third Bay Area performance within one year, and the first in the East Bay in three years.

“Oakland, East Bay. It’s very nice to be here, very refreshing. I look across to that dark and cloudy, misty land called San Francisco and wonder what idiot lives there.” lead vocalist Stuart Murdoch mused. “It’s like there’s a mystical witch that’s cast its spell on the place. Always winter, never Christmas. But here we are, in sunny Oakland.”

At 9:17pm, the house lights went down for a vintage film countdown that offered a unique introduction for Belle & Sebastian to walk onstage. After a synchronized “na na na” a cappella intro, they launched into the new track, “Show Me The Sun.”

It was immediately obvious that there were more instruments and places available on stage than were being used. As the show progressed and the band moved from song to song, auxiliary musicians added accents as needed. Meanwhile, the core players switched onto nearly every instrument, save for a select number of orchestral strings and drummer Richard Colburn's kit.

Moving on quickly from the new song, Belle & Sebastian strode into the title track from 1998’s The Boy with the Arab Strap. During the tune, Murdoch ad-libbed the first of many jabs directed at the current political climate, comparing the president and the racist clientele of the song's minicab driver.

Belle & Sebastian at The Fox Theater, by Joshua Huver

On “We Were Beautiful,” local trumpeter Dylan joined the band on stage and Murdoch donned a keytar, a solid visual contrast to his grayscale plaid pants. Beginning the track with a variety of single-legged yoga poses while singing, Murdoch drew scores of applause. More ad-libbed lyrics led to a brief and appropriate storybook-style introduction to the band’s namesake track, “Belle & Sebastian.”

“We’ve dusted off an old one for you, but it’s kind of a weird one," Murdoch admitted. "I don’t remember which came first, the song or the group name.”

The cellist Kailey, from Davis, replaced the trumpeter on the track from 1997’s Dog On Wheels, Belle & Sebastian’s debut EP, freeing Sarah Martin for a few solos on the flute. Twenty minutes in, the band launched into its fifth song of the evening, “If She Wants Me,” the first from the 2003 album Dear Catastrophe Waitress.

Belle & Sebastian at The Fox Theater, by Joshua Huver

The newer song “Sweet Dew Lee” began with introductory banter between Murdock and Jackson, and was followed by The Life Pursuit’s “Funny Little Frog.” At this point, the vivid visual background featuring Murdoch's photography was replaced with an energetic light show.

Immediately after wrapping up “Funny Little Frog,” Murdoch held up two fingers to the band, signaling — much like a baseball player would — that instead of the first option on the setlist, they were opting to play the second: “Piazza, New York Catcher.” The second and final track from Dear Catastrophe Waitress to make the evening’s cut.

It was disappointing to hear them opt for a song they play often (”Piazza, New York Catcher”) versus a song they don’t (“The Fox in the Snow”) simply because it name-checks the area. That is probably the reason they played it at Outside Lands too. But to his credit, Murdoch made sure that the SF-Oakland rivalry was indeed healthy. Playing off the song lyrics, he continued comparing it to the band's once healthy rivalry with Franz Ferdinand.

Belle & Sebastian at The Fox Theater, by Joshua Huver

“A Summer Wasting," also from The Boy With The Arab Strap, was prefaced by a unique request from Murdoch. He first asked the audience how their summer is going, or expected to go. Asking for honesty, even if it was looking to be a bad time. He asked the crowd to take a deep breath, “and when you breathe out, breathe out all of your shit. Breathe it towards me, I’m gonna catch it and put it in my pocket.”

A second conflict arose as to which song the band would perform next. Instead of "Play For Today," they ended up going with "Poor Boy," one of their latest singles from How To Solve Our Human Problems. For this track, Martin took over the lead vocals.

“Mayfly,” the lone track from 1996’s If You’re Feeling Sinister, precluded "Sukie in the Graveyard." During "Sukie," Murdoch climbed into the audience and walked on the front railing. He picked out at least a dozen fans from the front row to get up on stage to dance. Unfortunately, the party line lost their way while backstage. Murdoch wound up extending the invite to dance onstage to the next song, "The Party Line." The set ended with "I Want the World to Stop," the lone selection from 2010's Write About Love.

Belle & Sebastian at The Fox Theater, by Joshua Huver

During the encore, they played "The Wrong Girl" before taking a poll of the audience. After obliging a fan with a single first verse of "There's Too Much Love" a cappella, Belle & Sebastian came to a decision. Unable to oblige everyone, the show ended with the dance number "Sleep The Clock Around."

If you weren’t lucky enough to manage Belle & Sebastian at either Outside Lands or the Independent last fall, Monday night’s show included a healthy number of repeats that ought to have assuaged any FOMO. In fact, exactly half the tracks were repeated selections, including “Sukie in The Graveyard” which was played at all three. According to Murdoch, he will always play it at every Bay Area show in hope that the song's namesake will be there.

All in all, Belle and Sebastian was an insanely good time. The energy in the room definitely mimicked the high energy on stage. When he wasn't tied down to his piano, Murdoch could be found bouncing back and forth across the stage, often engaging with the various band members as much as the audience.

Opening the evening was Philadelphia-based indie rock quartet Japanese Breakfast. The solo project of Little Big League's Michelle Zauner, the band blasted through 11 songs over 40 minutes. Throughout the first half of the set, things sped along. An incurable buzzing seeped from the monitors, forcing the band to talk less and rock more.

Japanese Breakfast at The Fox Theater, by Joshua Huver

Near the end of the set, however, the buzzing stopped and the whole venue rejoiced. Most fans made it out early enough to catch Japanese Breakfast's opening set, and the band was truly appreciative. Their song selection included the single "Road Head," and most of the other songs from the recent Soft Sounds From Another Planet. Songs "Heaven," "Heft," and "Everybody Wants To Love You" appear on the band's 2016 debut, Psychopomp. Full concert footage from Japanese Breakfast's set is available on YouTube. But check out the official video for "Road Head" first:

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