Belle and Sebastian Live Review

Last night, Mike and I went to see Belle and Sebastian at the Symphony Hall – or ‘Sympathy Hall’ as my Nan calls it. We both enjoyed the show, so we’re going to review it in this aptly named Belle and Sebastian Live Review.

We arrived at the Symphony Hall a little early, so we bought some snacks for the show. We went in and found our seats, which were in a great location, not too many rows back and dead in the centre of the row just as I like. We sat down and waited.

The support act was The Lower Dens, not that we knew that when they introduced themselves because we could barely hear the frontman. Their music reminded me of The Manic Street Preachers, with heavy guitars and a wailing singer. The one problem I found was that the vocals microphone was too quiet and so, coupled with the singer’s love of mumbling, this lead to the lyrics being barely distinguishable. There was a lot of “ooh!” and “waahoohwaah!” going on, but that’s as much as I could make out. The lead singer was a polite chap, shirt tucked in and very thankful for our presence (even though the hall was half full at this point). He pointed out that the ceiling looked a bit like something from a sci-fi movie. That was about it.

We then had some more time to wait before the main act, but fortunately – or unfortunately, still not sure – they provided us with some ‘entertainment’. They announced that they would be playing a short documentary about Glasgow, called Glasgow 1980, that we were free to watch or ignore. The film, I’ve got to be honest, was quite boring. What puzzled me was that we’re in 2015 and we’re watching a film called Glasgow 1980 that’s set in the 1970s talking about the future 1980 which is now in the past. I’m guessing they wanted to try and give us a bit of history about their city and get us into a Scottish mood, but nobody seemed that interested in the film, which was a bit of a shame really. With it being an old clip, the narration wasn’t top quality, so Mike and I had quite a laugh at some lines that we misheard, including such gems as “an apartment block for villains”.

glasgow 1980

When the band came out, they spoke about their brief time in Birmingham over the past couple of days and played another film; an even shorter documentary, this time about Birmingham, narrated by Telly Savalas. I’d seen this film at college, so I didn’t laugh as much as some. The interesting thing about the Birmingham film is that Savalas never actually went to Birmingham – despite lines like “I visited the traffic control office” – but most people who have seen the film know this, so it’s quite funny.

So, onto the music now. The show opened with Nobody’s Empire, the opening track off their latest album, Girls in Peacetime Want To Dance – my review of which you can read here by the way. It’s a great song and perfect choice to open the show with. The next song was I’m A Cuckoo. Before the show, Mike and I spoke about which songs we’d like them to play. Whenever I go to a concert, I think about which songs I’d like to hear beforehand, but bands don’t always play the songs I want them to. Strangely enough, I’m A Cuckoo was the song I picked, one of my favourites that I hoped they would play. So as you can imagine I was chuffed when I heard the opening riff. At this point, nobody had gotten up to dance, so I enjoyed the song whilst sitting down. Although, this brings me to one of the stand out points of the show.

At the start of the concert, after the first song, there was a bit of a commotion behind us. I couldn’t see much, but a security guard was speaking to a guy. It turned out he was telling him to sit down and stop shouting. Throughout the night, the man – let’s call him Shouty Man – was shouting at everyone to stand up. Not dance, just stand up. His reason was “This is a pop concert! We should be allowed to stand! Everyone stand up!” Eventually, the lead singer, Stuart Murdoch, invited everyone to get up and dance, which thrilled Shouty Man. We thought this was the last of his rants, but then he kept insisting that everyone “Stay standing up!” It was funny at first, but soon became very annoying.

Back to the music, and once again they played one of our favourite songs. We Rule The School was the song Mike was hoping for and they played it! Only 4 songs into the set and we’d both had our favourite songs played.

Perfect Couples (Are Breaking Up) was an interesting number. Firstly, Murdoch played bongos for this song, while Stevie Jackson sung lead. I like when bands have other members sing lead – like Mike Mills in R.E.M. – because you get a slightly different sound to the song and it shows how versatile the band is. The main thing I liked about this number was the graphics on the screen in the background. Of course I’m a designer, so I pay attention to things like this. The video was a loop of people coming into a room, doing something and then leaving. At first it seemed like random nonsense, but as each person came in earlier and their timelines crossed, it turned out they were interacting with each other.

belle and sebastian live review

Before There’s Too Much Love, Murdoch called up a few volunteers from the audience to act as ‘percussion’. He also suggested that everyone get up and dance. It was at this point that the party got into full swing. Shouty Man was in his element, people were dancing up and down the aisle, it was great fun. Between the next few songs, the audience decided amongst themselves who was going to keep standing – as per Shouty Man’s instructions – and who would sit down. By Dog On Wheels, everyone was up and dancing. I’ll admit I’m not much of a dancer. I’ve never really known what to do at concerts. At Oasis, I stood there not doing much. At R.E.M. I did the ‘pointing in the air’ thing a bit, but I didn’t like that I did it. At Paul McCartney I spent most of it playing ‘air bass’ or ‘air piano’ because I know most of the songs on bass/piano. But here, I just joined in with everyone else. I was bouncing around, clapping and tapping the chair in front of me like a conga. It was jolly good fun.

The music was a good mix of classics – such as the crowd pleasing The Boy With The Arab Strap – and numbers off the latest album. Murdoch said that they understood fans wanted to hear oldies and new stuff, so it was nice that they acknowledged that. The new stuff was much better live than on the album I thought. I suppose live is almost always better, because you’re in the mood, you’re already dancing so it’s highly unlikely you’re going to stop for one number and say “No, I don’t like this one” when everyone around you is still dancing. But songs like Allie and Perfect Couples I will now listen to more than I have done. Their closing number was Legal Man, which I hadn’t heard before but I really loved. They got even more people up from the audience to dance on stage. I was aware that they’re known for doing this, but it was still nice to see the band really engaging with their fans and letting them do something that they clearly know the fans want to do.

After Legal Man, they thanked the audience and left the stage. The lights stayed the same, so everybody knew there was going to be an encore. We still spent a couple of minutes clapping and goading them to come back out, which they did, finishing the show with Get Me Away From Here, I’m Dying.

belle and sebastian live review

After the show, we went outside to the ‘merch’ stand. I bought a t-shirt. Although I wasn’t that impressed with any of the designs, I always like to get something as a souvenir, and summer is coming up so I can show my t-shirt off. Mike bought an LP by The Lower Dens.

Overall, we both really enjoyed the show. With the possible exception of Hugh Laurie and the Copper Bottom Band, it was the only concert I’ve been to where there was a real party atmosphere. It’s also the only concert I’ve been to with Mike where he’s got up and danced, so that’s some feat. Often concerts feel like the band is just trying to plug their latest album, but this was by no means like that. This was fun.

Below is a short video with some clips I recorded during the show. The quality is crap (bad lighting) and it’s a bit shaky cos I was so excited, but it gives you an idea what the concert was like.

The setlist:

  1. Nobody’s Empire
  2. I’m a Cuckoo
  3. The Party Line
  4. We Rule the School
  5. If She Wants Me
  6. Allie
  7. Perfect Couples (Are Breaking Up)
  8. Piazza, New York Catcher
  9. My Wandering Days Are Over
  10. The Power of Three
  11. There’s Too Much Love
  12. Jonathan David
  13. Dog on Wheels
  14. The Boy with the Arab Strap
  15. Legal Man
  16. The State I Am In

Encore:

  • Dirty Dream Number Two
  • Get Me Away From Here, I’m Dying

Our rating: 5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

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