Belle And Sebastion @ The Tivoli, 07.03.11
It’s a Monday.
Mondays are special. Bands never play shows on Monday, or rarely. We’re crushed by tiredness, stunned by reality. “I don’t know how parents do it,” writes Stuart Murdoch on Facebook, after I’d politely turned down his invitation for an after-show chat. Neither do we. Look at us, standing to the side, slightly swaying: Charlotte against a door-jamb, myself hopping from one vantage point to the next during the opening brace, ‘I Didn’t See It Coming’ and ‘I’m A Cuckoo’, Stuart swaddled in librarian scarf and wearing – surely not – sunglasses. The sound is immediately full, but not intimidating, tricksy, but not needlessly smart: sophisticated. Scots pop (to complement all those pastoral outpourings of English pop during the 70s). I attempt to count the number of musicians on stage – 13, no is it 12? – and start to understand the $70 ticket price. (The set lasts close on two hours, too.) The crowd is immediately appreciative, not restive, keen to parade their love for Belle And Sebastian by continually shouting out requests for songs. Stuart is livelier than I remember him, bobbing and weaving about, his dance moves halfway between Mohammed Ali and Nikki McClure. (I swear, you will never see those two names mentioned together again in a sentence. Ever.)
“One fellow from Australia – let’s say he was from Brisbane – was emailing us about our increasing use of profanity with each passing album … “
“Fuck yeah,” shouts a passing wag.
The band are tight, not ramshackle. Tight, but not rock. ‘Step Into My Office, Baby’ (the first single from the 2003, Trevor Horn-produced Dear Catastrophe Waitress) sits a little uneasily with me: I say, not needlessly smart. I use the word sophisticated as a plus point but this boy remains a Ramones fan at heart. Sophisticated, to me, is Vivian Girls introducing a fourth chord: The Pastels extending ‘Baby Honey’ past the three-minute point. Not all these instruments being conducted by Stuart somewhat enthusiastically: violins and keyboards and guitars and three or four voices and doubtless a cowbell too. ‘Piazza, New York Catcher’ follows, from the smash ‘indie’ film Juno, and it occurs to me, once more: this music is people’s life soundtracks. The people here: man, no hipsters! I was expecting hipsters. No. Good solid ordinary office couples, the type of which Brisbane excels at.
“Can I have those sunglasses,” someone calls, after Stuart whips them off, along with the scarf.
“Sorry, they were a present from my wife.”
Stevie Jackson, the other notable front-person, is less forthcoming than Stuart. He hangs back: swarthy, vaguely awkward like he wants to try out for Brisbane’s Gin Club after. You have the impression this band have been touring a while together: jokes seem to be continued from a previous performance. Look at us now, the proud parents: Charlotte is retreated to a plush sofa in the oddly quietened bar area, side of hall; I’m right in front of the – ow!, ow! – speakers, stage right. Not for long. ‘I’m Not Living In The Real World’ (note to self: surely an old Blondie song title?) sounds unfamiliar, but pleasing enough – wayward, subtly infectious, with an elongated Jackson introduction that feels a fraction overdone. Yes, we know how Eurovision works (key changes, semitones). Personal favourite ‘I Want The World To Stop’ (also from last year’s Write About Love), is a skinny milk cappuccino delight: buoyant, upbeat and with the sort of delirious three-part vocal harmonies that folk – well, me – imagine most every Belle And Sebastian album is laden down with, an assumption reached solely through prolonged exposure to Tigermilk and ‘Dog On Wheels’.
Incidentally, for those who think the criticism leveled at Write About Love – that it sounds in places like a parody of Belle And Sebastian’s earlier work – is anything new, Pitchfork were making the exact same charge about The Boy With The Arab Strap (1998).
Speaking as a Ramones and Undertones fan, I love a bit of self-parody, me. As long as it’s done straight.
“All of our stand-in trumpet-players are called Michael,” comments Stuart. “It’s nice, because it reminds us of our own Michael, who is back in Scotland.”
(This is a very condensed version of his banter.)
“Maybe we should mention Isobel and Stuart here.” He drags out a large picture of … quite can’t see … Isobel?
“To absent friends.”
“This is beginning to feel like a wake,” comments Stevie, dryly.
A snippet of something we recognise is played. Must be from ‘Dog On Wheels’. I’m seated next to Charlotte now, basking in the comparative opulence. Everything is context, right? A woman opposite us has been ferociously texting all evening: now she looks around blankly. Hard to tell the mothers from the daughters. A parade of white high heels clatters by. Is that the old Monkees hit ‘Last Train To Clarkesville’ Stevie is singing? The set-list says it is … and so I’m guessing it is. Man, this couch is nice. What was that Stuart said? Something about whoever claps the hardest to – didn’t catch the title, maybe it’s ‘The Fox In The Snow’ (from If You’re Feeling Sinister), no, can’t be that one, it’s too fragile, melancholy … well, whoever claps the hardest, will be invited up on stage, boys and girls both. Boys and girls both. They all dance like Stuart: or, as my heart has it, Nikki McClure.
Man, Mondays really are special in this town.