Originally published on Thursday 16 June 2011 at http://www.leedsguide.co.uk/review/live-review/belle-and-sebastian/18747
- Note: this differs slightly from my original version.
“Well, it’s been a while, Leeds”, Belle and Sebastian frontman Stuart Murdoch announces by way of introduction. The sea of bodies at the O2 Academy is not hesitant in agreeing, as sections of the audience begin to shout, confusingly at first, “1998! 1998!” “I suppose that some of you might not have been born back then,” he replies, forlornly. “I’m always the oldest in the room”.
1998 wasn’t long after Belle and Sebastian released their debut, Tigermilk, as part of a low-key project at a Glaswegian college. Although they’ve achieved global success in the intervening period – picking up a BRIT Award and a Top of the Pops appearance on the way – they’ve always managed to remain refreshingly at odds with the mainstream chart, making music as if the horn-and-string-drenched sunshine pop of the 60s never faded away.
Tonight is the last night of a long world tour in support of Write About Love, their first album in four years. Before they arrive on stage, there’s a tense atmosphere: will they be spent from several months of solid touring, in locations more exotic than this fine metropolis?
No, is the answer. They’re fantastic, and boldly kick off with some new ones, including the delightful ‘I’m Not Living In The Real World’. Here, guitarist Stevie Jackson teases a little audience participation out of the room, carefully highlighting the song’s four key changes by asking the crowd to sing the melody line in four different ways. This is achieved with a surprising measure of success.
Some of the band’s ‘greatest hits’ make a much-appreciated appearance, including ‘I’m a Cuckoo’, ‘Sleep the Clock Around’, ‘Get Me Away From Here I’m Dying’ and their “top 15 smash” (Stevie’s words), ‘Legal Man’. All are immeasurably enhanced by organs, pianos, a trumpet and a string quartet, with most band members swapping instruments at least once.
Three lucky fans are invited up on stage during ‘The Boy with the Arab Strap’, and all proudly display massive grins as they dance idiosyncratically about the stage. As the song ends, Stuart presents each fan with a medal and a handshake by way of reward, which seems to be entirely appropriate. Any other gesture would seem deeply wrong. A fourth medal is bestowed on someone Stuart spots at the front, who “has come to every gig on our tour”.
This crystallises the essence of Belle and Sebastian. Unlike so many other big acts, their music and performances don’t seem at all forced: they are genuinely delighted to be around their fans, who in return are equally delighted to be around them. In fact – and this is in the nicest possible sense – they seem to revel in a wonderful sense of nerdiness. And they make excellent music, too.
As evening draws to a close, Stuart takes the time to introduce and thank every single member of the crew and band, before a splendid encore of ‘Me and the Major’. Then, they politely wave, bow and exit. Lovely. Here’s hoping Belle and Sebastian make a return visit – hopefully before another 13 years go by.
Belle and Sebastian played the O2 Academy on 3rd June.