Belle & Sebastian (photo: Aaron Rubin)
Like any indie band worth their weight in vinyl, Scottish legends Belle & Sebastian have captured hearts time and time again, and their intimate show on Thursday, August 10, at the Independent was no exception.
Playing a “cheeky” additional show in advance of their weekend appearance at the Outside Lands, the ineffable group sold the show out almost as soon as tickets were made available. I have personally been a fan since 2003’s Dear Catastrophe Waitress burrowed its way into my formative high school mind. By then, Belle & Sebastian were polishing up their sound and leaning into jangly odes to ’60s and ’70s pop.
2015’s Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance is their ninth LP and stepped even further from where they were a decade prior. Riddled with shimmer and heavy “four on the floor” disco beats, the band’s sense of doomed innocence kept many fans as engulfed as ever. Of course, others still can’t get over the polish of Dear Catastrophe Waitress, sticking to the band’s earlier work. They’re held over with the rarities and re-releases.
“So many of our older songs were written around a strummed guitar or some chords on the piano,” band leader Stuart Murdoch told Rolling Stone. “This one is all about the rhythm. It starts with the kick drum, and the tune dances around that.” The new look revitalized the band, and it doesn’t seem they have any intention of slowing down.
Luckily for me, Thursday was the first time I was able to see Belle & Sebastian perform live, and the energy that dance-oriented mindset brought to the stage resonated. It was especially evident in their approach to some of their oldest songs, which took up the majority of the set list. All but four of the 18 songs played were from albums over a decade old, but none of them quite carried the simplicity that they do on the records. Instead, the band opted for a rowdy good time rather than bittersweet melancholy.
The doors opened at 7:30 to a line that was wrapped down Divisadero and up Grove. The front of the stage was immediately swallowed up by fans rushing to stake their space, and by 8:32, the lights had dimmed and the 10-piece band took the stage, opening with “Dog On Wheels.” An early cut from the band’s beginnings in Glasgow as a university-sponsored recording project, the track was the first of five the band played that were collected on 2005’s Push Barman To Open Old Wounds.
“Seeing Other People,” from their sophomore release If You’re Feeling Sinister, the second of two albums they put out in 1996, preceded the newest song of their catalog. Penned by the illustrious Stevie Jackson, “Sweet Dewelee” first made its debut barely two months ago.
“Oh look, my friends from the sidewalk!” exclaimed Murdoch, taking his first break between songs. “We’re all here!” In addition to the line of ticket holders that had built up outside the venue, several people had arrived in hopes of finding a group with an extra ticket. The week of the show, secondhand ticket site StubHub had prices that reached upwards of $250 each.
After performing its newest work, the band quickly took the audience to the opposite end of its catalog, Side A of their 1996 debut record Tigermilk, for “Expectations.” Before playing the next tune, “Photo Jenny,” Murdoch told a funny story about the song’s muse, whom was in the audience, and an interesting sleeping arrangement. Check both songs out below:
I happened to be standing next to Jen, and she was genuinely excited about it. I asked her if she heard the song before he started playing it and she replied that Murdoch indeed sent it to her first, like the true gentleman he is.
Murdoch launched into “a very SF song. I started writing it in SF and I had just started writing songs on guitar,” he admitted, strumming the chords to “Sukie In The Graveyard” from 2006’s The Life Pursuit. The band even playfully extended the middle section, which was really a treat to watch.
It was obvious how much fun the band was having. During “Jonathan David,” Murdoch was up and dancing all over the stage with a tambourine. Of the 10 people that started the set, three of them seemed to come and go throughout the night as the songs required, but there were never less than seven instruments being played at a time,and only a few of the musicians remained on a single instrument throughout the night.
In addition to Murdoch bouncing around from acoustic guitar, piano, percussion, and vocals, there was also the aforementioned Stevie Jackson taking several verses and offering his lead guitar and pop sensibilities throughout. Keyboardist Chris Geddes, drummer Richard Colburn, violinist, vocalist, flautist, keyboardist, and percussionist Sarah Martin, with Bobby Kildea on bass and multi-instrumentalists Dave McGowan and Sez Wilson entering and exiting as needed. San Francisco resident Dylan was also thanked during the show for lending his his trumpet from track to track.
Two more older tracks, “We Rule The School” and “A Century Of Fakers” led into one of the band’s newer songs (if 2010 can still be considered new). “I Can See Your Future” was the only track played from Belle & Sebastian Write About Love. The group fell back into the middle of their catalog with “Stay Loose” before giving the title track to 1998’s The Boy With the Arab Strap the latest dance infusion at 9:30.
“Women’s Realm” was the only song from 2000’s Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like A Peasant to make the set list. Immediately after it, Murdoch inquired of the crowd, “Can you dance to anything?” He selected a young woman and her two friends to join Belle & Sebastian on stage, as long as they danced.
The stage was maxed out at 13 people for “We Are The Sleepyheads” and “The Party Line,” the latter the lead single from Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance. The guests were then helped off stage ahead of the final song of the set, “Sleep The Clock Around” from 1998’s The Boy With the Arab Strap.
For the encore, the band led off with “I’m A Cuckoo” from 2003’s Dear Catastrophe Waitress, before Murdoch welcomed another fan onstage to sing along to “Lazy Line Painter Jane” to close the evening.