Belle and Sebastian, Corn Exchange, Cambridge, 7 May 2015

Belle and Sebastian formed in Glasgow in 1996 and despite several albums and live performances they have passed me by, so tonight at the long sold-out Corn Exchange was a chance for me to see what I have been missing…

Opening the show were Lower Dens from Baltimore, a four piece band fronted by the emotive voice of enigmatic songwriter Jana Hunter, the vocals sounding like a hybrid of Anna Calvi and Siouxsie Sioux. Musically dark and quite sparse, at times a variant on pop keyboard electronica and then taking a turn into bottleneck guitar loops. There was a gorgeous song featuring the unique tones of a fretless bass. The intriguing and compact set was well received (the Cambridge audience in place early as usual!) and lingered in the mind long after they had left the stage.

While the stage was being set for the headliners, we were treated to a documentary film about the history of Glasgow up to 1980. Fascinating stuff, then finally the string players arrived on stage, followed by the rest of the band, thirteen in total to reproduce the instrumental style and quirks of their recorded output with a combination of guitars, keyboards, cello, recorder, flute and more. Stuart Murdoch is one of the most relaxed and engaging frontmen I have seen for a while, starting seated at the electric piano for ‘Nobody’s Empire’, he was soon off the stage and walking along the tightrope of the front barrier, supported by the arms of the crowd (including me!?). ‘I’m A Cuckoo’, one of their more well known songs was followed by the disco-stomp of ‘The Party Line’ (an appropriate title for general election day). ‘Perfect Couples’ was sung by guitarist Stevie Jackson and like many of the songs this featured artfully designed back projections. Just for this show this included a quick view of ‘University Challenge’ while the string section performed the theme tune…

There was always plenty going on, scan the stage and see that the band had swapped instruments or something new to contribute to the sound had appeared. There was a big crowd reaction for the stripped back acoustic ‘Piazza, New York Catcher’ which I think shows the key to their longevity; I heard that a fan said that whatever your emotional state or life-experience there was a Belle and Sebastian song that would describe it and their devoted fan base have bought into this. They are not always comfortable lyrics, as some of the slightly strange album and song titles indicate. ‘The Cat With The Cream’ was introduced as their political song, ‘Enter Sylvia Plath’ was high energy europop. Members of the audience were on stage dancing to the sixties hipster vibe of ‘The Boy With The Arab Strap’, some stayed up there for another song and somehow it just seemed part of the laid back celebratory feel of the evening.

‘Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance’ is the new album, many reviewers say it shows a new direction but all the essentials are still there and they sound superb live…

http://www.belleandsebastian.com/news
http://lowerdens.com/

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