Read: Belle & Sebastian, Monday Night, Party Night at HOB

Belle and Sebastian

Belle and Sebastian, House of Blues March 30, 2015. Image courtesy Tim Cahill


I first heard of Belle & Sebastian when I was in college. The first song I ever heard was the robot-hymn “Electronic Renaissance”, and the second song I heard was “I’m a Cuckoo”. I really didn’t think much of them at first. I thought “Electronic Renaissance” was an awesome song and that if I had to be trapped inside of a video game for the rest of my life (or video game lives), I would probably want that song to be humming around in the background. I initially thought that “I’m a Cuckoo” felt cheap, like a gross wool sweater; a Thin Lizzy song. I later found out that THAT’S exactly what they were doing – those guitarmonies were deliberate. I could easily take a shortcut here and state the obvious that “Belle and Sebastian are cool”, but I won’t do that, because I don’t want to fully believe it.

Belle & Sebastian played the House of Blues Boston on Monday night. It was the first stop of their Spring / Summer 2015 tour. Long story short: I was very impressed. Some things definitely stood out for me that normally don’t at shows. Notably guitarist Stevie Jackson looked really cool – he looked like the cool, energetic brother of Alan Ruck (with glasses) and had an arsenal of 1960s psych-pop guitar licks that left me very impressed. He also switched instruments a lot (everyone did) and went from playing guitar to playing keytar in a very dignified, believable fashion, this is not an easy thing to pull off. As noted by lead singer Stuart Murdoch, “the keytar is a much maligned instrument”. Another thing that has always impressed me about Belle & Sebastian, and really shined through during their live performance, is their art direction. They seem to pull from the same clean, literary, classical-cultural aesthetic well that The Smiths pulled from. Their visuals all have a beautifully clever, and theatrical quality to them – a wonderful thing to see at concert.

As for the show – Belle & Sebastian, and all 7 of their utility musicians were firing on all cylinders. It was extremely impressive to see a band of 13 functioning at such a high level. Members swapped instruments between songs, their utility musicians played violins, trumpets, bongos, and synthesizers. A much less talented band of 13 could easily go right off the rails, but Belle & Sebastian flourished and seemed to thrive with all of their extra musicians – it really makes them stand out – it’s very impressive.

Belle and Sebastian, House of Blues. Image courtesy Tim Cahill

Belle and Sebastian, House of Blues. Image courtesy Tim Cahill

Highlights included “I’m a Cuckoo”,  followed by the new wave, New Order-like “The Party Line”, a new Santana-ish, Talking Heads-ish spy groove called “Perfect Couples”. “Perfect Couples” reminded me of fun 60s psych-surf-pop. A beautiful, unexpected version of “Fox in the Snow” followed after, accompanied with wonderful violin line. “Electronic Renaissance” was a crowd favorite that always reminds me of Devo and video games. Fans really got involved and were asked to come up and dance on stage during “A Summer Wasting” and “The Boy With the Arab Strap”. It really felt like I was in a Peanuts cartoon or at a 1960s surf, spy party – it was a wonderful thing to see, lots of fun. An unexpected bonus was an encore cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s “America” – a beautiful moment. And they wrapped up the show with “Judy and the Dream of Horses”.

Belle & Sebastian put on a wonderful, carefully orchestrated show. I was so energized after those last two songs that on my walk home that I managed to scarf down two hot dogs on Landsdowne Street and ended up getting mustard ALL over of my coat collar (I was hungry) – a small price to pay for a memorable night. Lead singer Stuart Murdoch addressed the crowd early on in the evening, saying: “Monday Night, Party Night”. I couldn’t agree more, it was a privilege to be able to skip grocery shopping and see a band as tight & talented as Belle & Sebastian (on Monday night nonetheless). I highly recommend picking up Belle & Sebastian’s latest “Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance”. Enjoy.