Glasgow’s finest pop romantics return to Australia in a few weeks. In 2004 they made their first visit here and some of us who had been waiting eight years were politely quivering with excitement, our overlong scarves waving in the air. We were rewarded.
BELLE AND SEBASTIAN
Enmore Theatre, July 25
This was a room of people who had spent their school years being bullied by the toughs in the Lower Fifth and then by burly blokes in engineering who sucked down beers and eviscerated arts students.
Wimps, wusses, dandies and scarf-wearers, book readers and art film watchers. The Governator would call us girly-men; we might call ourselves pop fans.
Either way, Belle And Sebastian are our kind of enquiring but not insistent, catchy but not annoyingly so, electric but not excessive band of brothers (and sisters).
In stripey shirts and woolly tops they swapped instruments and softly-spoken banter, used cello and violins almost as much as guitars and organs and sang songs about boys whose “brother had confessed that he was gay/It took the heat off me for a while” and girls “kissing men like a long walk home”.
They played gossamer light songs such as Dylan In The Movies that look like they could fall over in a strong breeze except that their roots (solid structure, tres beautiful melody, gently urgent momentum) go deep.
They mixed French pop and the Ventures in the beach blanket frug of Le Pastie De La Bourgeoisie (can you wear a black skivvy to the beach? Bein sur.) as comfortably as they brought Nick Drake and Claudine Longet together in the delicate sad beauty of Fox In The Snow.
No one missed the delicious irony of an AC/DC cover, Problem Child, by a band all 12 of whom could probably be beaten up by the tiny Young brothers. Even with the too frequently overloud bass rumbles, everyone felt the urge to shake their rumps a little bit (gently, politely … naturally) during the finger-snapping, mini hootenanny of Roy Walker.
At one point I thought how this setlist was dangerously like a serious fan’s delight, a nerdy heaven that mixed favourites from key albums with non-album singles and b-sides. Casual observers could find it a little odd.
Then I slapped myself (gently, politely … naturally). Who else would be here but serious fans?
Until this past year you wouldn’t hear B&S on radio and you rarely saw them mentioned in the music press. You had to search them out and their early deliberate obscurity (no band photos, mostly elliptical liner notes and serious vagueness about their personalities and predilections) made them ideal for classic pop fan obsessive behaviour and ownership.
In other words they were the band who could begin the encore singing “play me a song to set me free/nobody writes them like they used to/so it may as well be me” and find every one of the wimps, wusses and scarf wearers before them not just nodding in agreement – after all it’s so obvious to us - but singing along.
Gently, politely … naturally.