BELLE AND SEBASTIAN
Sydney Opera House, May 5
Oh yes, we know how to have fun at a Belle And Sebastian concert.
Twin recorder solo. Dual melodicas. A keytar. In your face, System Of A Down!
Suddenly realising – years into watching him perform – that guitarist Stevie Jackson in a buttoned up suit, has the same wiggle-hipped moves, pursed lips and playing style as former Go-Between Robert Forster. Eat his knotted tie, Bruno Mars!
But wait, there’s more: a Springsteen-like foray into the audience, to dance joyously if politely among us, and then walk back to the stage rather than be borne aloft on our hands. Rock and roll!!
It’s rather old hat to talk about, or have fun with, the combination of the once none-more-fey Glaswegians and either rock clichés or rock incongruities. Not to mention their supposedly limp-living, sad-hearted fans.
(To that latter point: a look around the room suggested the calumny visited on us as fans through the ‘90s and early 2000s was so wrong – we could and we DID get ourselves girlfriends/boyfriends. And they’re lovely people. So there, boofheads.)
Long before this tour, where as a nine piece they offer up to four keyboards or four guitarists at any point, cello and violin, trumpet and – yes – recorders, they’ve been good players and, just as crucially, good entertainers. And overall we’ve been the beneficiaries.
One of the oldest songs in the set, She’s Losing It, pushed along on acoustic guitars, strings, and trumpet, has vigour and energy that is anything but bedsit but still feels as light on the ear as mille feuille pastry. One of the newest, We Were Beautiful, comes with a busy undercarriage (looped rhythm track) and punchy links while the melody is almost languorous laid over it.
Then there’s the way Sweet Dew Lee begins as a sophisticated Vanda & Young dinner dance that threatens more than once to bust a move all the way to the Bee Gees – specifically, More Than A Woman.
And Stuart Murdoch’s dancing (on stage and off), banter and relative comfort in the eye of attention is welcoming and often a hoot – including to his usually stoic bandmates.
Since getting a good show is minimum standard now for B&S, not getting a great show becomes a little more striking. And for all the fun had, this was short of a stellar night, stymied by some just-off-the-pace tempos/energy and a couple of songs that promised but didn’t quite lift off.
One of those nearly moments came in the surprise appearance of the aforementioned Forster – a hero to literary/affected/needy boys and girls for some 40 years, and clearly a touchstone for Murdoch, Jackson et al.
He sang his own call to New York-via-Brisbane, Learn To Burn, and shared in a tribute to another bunch of Glasgow iconoclasts, Orange Juice. But OJ’s Rip It Up was a tad short of the requisite sly funkiness and rather than kick off the final quarter of the set, it held it back so that The State I’m In felt like it had to come from further down to capture us.
Furthermore, finishing the set with a pallid I Didn’t See It Coming after the electro groove (and run into the audience) of The Party Line, was a mistake that reinforced the not quite peak sense of the show.
Luckily then, the encore’s ancien regime double of Judy And The Dream Of Horses and Get Me Away From Here I’m Dying – fey, witty, pretty and easy for even the clumsy and the dorkish to shake a leg to, not to mention those dual melodicas! – kicked us out of the room in joy. And did I mention, in happy couples.
Belle And Sebastian play The Tivoli, Brisbane, May 7.