The first times I’d seen them had been at the Astoria in London in December 2003 and then the following summer at Somerset House, both times with my friend Phil, and both times supporting the wonderful Dear Catastrophe Waitress album, with the latter featuring support from the fabulous The Shins.
I came to them late, as you can tell, only getting my first album by them when a colleague and good friend Suki bought me their classic The Boy With The Arab Strap album for my birthday in 1999. I then caught up with their back catalogue around the time of first seeing them live.
I’ve now got all ten of their studio albums proper (including this year’s How To Solve Our Human Problems, which is in fact a compilation of three recent ep’s), plus a couple of odds and sods compilations.
Support came from Julien Baker, who sang wide-mouthed, haunting vocals while accompanying herself on either electric guitar, sometimes using a loop pedal, or keyboards, although she was joined by Camille Faulkner on violin for her final four numbers.
I came in to a hushed Phil as she was already on stage, but as I caught around eight songs, I can’t have missed all that much.
She pulled out songs from both of her albums to date, 2015’s Sprained Ankle and the acclaimed Turn Out The Lights from last year. I’d listened to a few tracks online before the gig, but found her sound more captivating live.
Penultimate track was Sour Breath from Turn Out The Lights, with its affecting lyrics, “kiss me goodnight with your sour breath, breaks on my face like a wave of emptiness”.
The set ended with Something off the debut album which left me intrigued to hear more some time.
I had a pleasant pint of Black Sheep’s Square One, while enjoying some R.E.M. being played, before returning in good time for the main event, with the venue’s DJ spinning some interesting tunes, including the lovely Stereolab.
Belle And Sebastian came out to a suitably enthusiastic greeting, kicking things off with Act Of The Apostle from 2006’s The Life Pursuit.
They only played three tracks off the new record throughout the night, with their set-list jumping around their lengthy career. Main man Stuart Murdoch said they were trying to play songs they hadn’t played in the city before – and checking the setlist website shows they only repeated four tunes from their Sound City gig, so presumably mission accomplished.
An early highlight was I’m A Cuckoo from Dear Catastrophe Waitress, the first song to feature Stuart’s inimitable dancing full-on. He was an entertaining between-song raconteur, revealing how he had recently been to a wedding on the Wirral, and deciding that the boxes at the Phil must be for the Wirralians.
B&S are one of those fairly rare bands where lead vocals are sometimes shared around the band, and Stevie Jackson took metaphorical centre stage for the first time on Sweet Dew Lee off the new record.
The Loneliness Of A Middle Distance Runner off the Jonathan David single featured some audience participation in the form of communal whistling. After that, Murdoch appealed to local sensibilities by projecting a picture of Crosby beach, and then Ken Dodd with The Beatles, even cracking a couple of Dodd funnies, including “In some parts of the world people eat little bent pieces of wire for breakfast — it’s their staple diet”.
Other touching moments included a chorus of “happy birthday” sung by the band and audience to someone in the crowd called Lydia, while Poor Boy led by Sarah Martin saw a couple of people invited up to dance along,
A couple became a horde for The Boy With The Arab Strap, which came after the intensely lovely The Stars Of Track & Field, another early number of theirs.
There seemed to be seven of the band on stage most of the time, with those I’ve not yet mentioned being Chris Geddes on keyboards, drummer Richard Colburn, Bobby Kildea on guitar and bass, and Dave McGowan.
They were also occasionally joined by Jess Cox on cello, and a trumpeter whose name I didn’t catch.
The final two songs were the gorgeous Step Into My Office, Baby from Dear Catastrophe Waitress (the fourth track they did from that record, more than any other) and then Judy And The Dream Of Horses, originally the closing track on If You’re Feeling Sinister.
They came back for two more songs, firstly the groovy The Party Line from 2015’s Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance, with Murdoch ending up singing while balancing on the edge of the boxes.
Then the evening eventually closed with The Life Pursuit’s Another Sunny Day, a slightly surprising track on which to end the show, but another indication of how deep their catalogue is.
It was good to see them again, and I’ll keep an eye out for their next visit to town, as they’re a reliably good night out!
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Here is much of the music from the night on Spotify: