When I heard Belle and Sebastian’s first EP, as an opinionated teenager, I dismissed it as sounding too much like Love’s ‘Forever Changes’. I was similarly sniffy about subsequent releases declaring them as too ‘Fey’ and ‘Fragile’. Never mind that the albums I was listening to around this time, like Suede, Edwynn Collins and Lambchop, were hardly the most muscular sounds to ever a grace a cd player. I couldn’t be reasoned with though, I knew I was right, and besides, I was too cool for school (although my mum did still insist I attend).
In subsequent years, my attitude softened and I relented and eventually ended up owning two or three of their albums. I particularly enjoyed 2006’s ‘Dear Catastrophe Waitress’ but it’s fair to say that I’m really only a casual Belle and Sebastian fan. Seeing them live at last years TRNSMT festival didn’t really change that, but I think that may have more to do with me just getting too old and grouchy for music festivals!
Arriving at Perth Concert Hall I was pleased to learn that it was a standing gig so I grabbed a pint and headed in to catch the support act. Julien Baker is an American singer and guitarist and she’s also a whizz with a pedalboard and a looper, creating an immersive, swampy Daniel Lanois style sound on her set opener ‘Turn Out the Lights’. Her songwriting skills are pretty sharp too, particularly on the beautiful title track from her ‘Sprained Ankle’ album.
Soon it’s time for the main event, and Belle and Sebastian take the stage to a rapturous applause. Things get off to a promising start with ‘Nobody's Empire’, a track from the bands most recent collection of EP’s, the band clearly have a ball channelling the spirit of Tom Tom Club, with Murdoch beating the bongos like they owe him money. ‘How to Solve Our Human Problems part 1-3’, an unashamedly pop-like upbeat song that translates really well to a live setting. They follow this up with the great ‘I’m a Cuckoo’. You’ve got to love a song that name checks Thin Lizzy, The Sunday Gang and musically pays homage to Bob Dylan’s ‘Positively Fourth Street’!
Lead singer Stuart Murdoch straps on a keytar for ‘We Are Beautiful’, another strong recent song. It’s got a late nineties EDM vibe and if you stripped it of the vocals and horns it could almost be a milder Aphex Twin cut. The strongest performance of the night, at least for me, is the slinky ‘Perfect Couples’, on which guitarist Stevie Jackson takes lead vocal duties. It’s an infectious old skool tune: funky, fun and poppy, and the band clearly have a ball channelling the spirit of Tom Tom Club, with Murdoch beating the bongos like they owe him money. ‘Stay Loose’ is another killer tune that sports a retro vibe, plus it also features the best lead guitar lines of the night. Somehow it manages to simultaneously remind me of both Elvis Costello and Madness without seeming the least bit derivative. It really is a belter!
When you are at a Belle and Sebastian gig, and you hear ‘The Boy With The Arab Strap’ strike up, you know it’s time for a bit of crowd participation. Sure enough, Murdoch soon starts pulling people up on the stage for a wee bit of a boogie. For one guy it’s like he’s won the lottery, and he’s giving it really big licks with his dance moves, strutting around the stage like Liam Gallagher. When he repeatedly grabs one of the microphones though, he’s crossed a line and it’s time for him to join us back in the audience. Nae luck son!
As the band rejoin the stage for their inevitable encore there are several cries of ‘we love you Richie’ for ace drummer and former Perth resident Richard Coburn. Unfortunately he’s wearing ear drum monitors so he can’t hear all the love coming his way. As the final notes of second encore ‘Sleep Around The Clock’ ring out I hot foot it to the coat check to beat the rush. I’m definitely leaving the Concert Hall a much bigger Belle and Sebastian fan than I entered. I mean, they’re no Teenage Fanclub (although their bass player, Dave McGowan does play with them) but they’re pretty damn good, especially live.
3 Fun Richard Coburn Facts
Any Muso worth their salt knows that Belle and Sebastian drummer Richard Coburn hails from Perth but here’s 3 more things you might not know about him.
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