Belle and Sebastian
Photo by Søren Solkær
Belle and Sebastian
North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh
Monday, July 31, 2017
There’s something you should know up front about my relationship with Belle and Sebastian
: my wife, who accompanied me to Monday night’s concert at the N.C. Museum of Art’s outdoor stage, is an unabashed fan, such that our dogs are named Belle and Sebastian. More recently, she told me recently that if we ever had a boy child, he would be named Stuart, after frontman Stuart Murdoch. Which is to say that, in the interests of domestic bliss, I’d be disinclined to say anything derogatory about the band’s performance, even if I thought it warranted.
Fortunately, that’s not an issue. The show was exquisite. But I’ll get there in a second.
I’m more of what you’d call a casual fan. I think Dear Catastrophe Waitress
is an amazing record and “The Boy With the Arab Strap” makes me want to bounce like Tigger, but I couldn’t hold court on Tigermilk
deep cuts or quote lyrics at length or identify song titles from the opening guitar lick (OK, “Sukie in the Graveyard”). I thought 2010’s Write About Love
was decent enough, but much of 2015’s electro-infused Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance
So, with that as backdrop, let’s talk about the concert. Actually, first, the venue: it was my first time at NCMA’s outdoor stage, and it was a stunning summer night—a cloudless, starlit sky, warm but not muggy, sold out but not overwhelmingly crowded. After the opening set by the excellent, atmospheric Andrew Bird, we were able to maneuver our way to the front of the stage, standing just in front of the railing as the sunset gave way to night. It would be a beautiful venue, and a beautiful evening, under any circumstances, but as the setting for Belle and Sebastian, it was something beyond that.
And the band—especially Murdoch—was buoyant, running deep into its catalog, playing only two of eighteen songs from their forthcoming record, and only two other tracks from its previous two LPs. Everything else dated back into the band’s twenty-one-year history: a heavy sampling of Arab Strap
, Dear Catastrophe Waitress,
and The Life Pursuit
, a track off If You’re Feeling Sinister
. All the while, Murdoch danced about the stage, endearing in a twee but ebullient sort of way, through fan favorites like “Sukie,” “Arab Strap,” and “She’s Losing It” and deeper cuts alike.
With two decades under their belt, the band performed as you’d expect, shifting seamlessly from song to song—and, in many cases, instrument to instrument, as the band’s myriad players often swap between songs—never missing a beat, building to crescendos and playing adroitly to the audience’s energy. (Toward the end, during “Arab Strap,” the band invited the front row up on stage to dance along with them. Alas, we had retreated to the lawn by this point.)
In so many words, it was a solid, capable, energetic, enthusiastic performance by a venerable band that wisely played more to its older diehards than newbies; but complement that performance with such an idyllic setting, and you get something greater than the sum of its parts—something that, every so often, felt preternaturally joyful, almost transcendent.
Below, I’ve embedded a playlist of the show’s setlist
, minus a new song called “Sweet Dewelee