It just so happens that Belle & Sebastian are my favorite group musical act. I first discovered them in college, back when I had my first iPod, and iTunes was in its early days. Back then, iTunes had a feature that allowed users on the same network to listen to one another's music collections without downloading the music permanently. Since you could listen to whole songs, it was a good way to test out new music without having to purchase it first. One day, I was browsing through the collection of an anonymous user in my dorm, when I came across a song called, "Dylan In The Movies." As I was heavily into Bob Dylan at the time, I clicked on the song to see if it had any relation to him. It didn't in the slightest, but I was charmed by the song's infectious pep. I was intrigued, and started listening to the band's other music, finding that I liked it as well. Soon, I found myself downloading the entire Belle & Sebastian catalog.
Unfortunately for me, the band only releases new albums every 4-5 years, and doesn't tour often. Their last album, The Life Pursuit, was released in 2006, and marked the last time they toured in the U.S. For a while, I had religiously stalked their website looking for new tour dates, but none were forthcoming and eventually I stopped checking. Hence, their current tour and tomorrow's release of a new album, Belle & Sebastian Write About Love, came as a complete surprise to me. So much for being a loyal fan...
Still, as soon as I got home, I checked Ticketmaster for tickets to the show, only to find that it was sold out. Opting to take a risk, I looked on Stubhub, where I agreed to part with an outrageous sum of money for a resale ticket. After all, I figured, if Belle & Sebastian is only going to tour twice a decade, I might as well splurge. The ticket arrived in the mail in a timely manner, and tonight, I found myself at the Chicago Theater in truly stupendous seats -- almost worth the money I'd shelled out for them.
Although the band was ostensibly touring in support of their new album, which will be released tomorrow, they only played two songs from it. Instead, their set list focused on material from their older releases. In fact, their last album, The Life Pursuit, was only represented by one song as well: "Sukie in the Graveyard." Here was the set list for the evening:
- I Didn't See It Coming
- I'm a Cuckoo
- Step Into My Office, Baby
- She's Losing It
- I'm Not Living In the Real World
- Piazza, New York Catcher
- Lord Anthony
- I Want the World to Stop
- Sukie in the Graveyard
- (I Believe In) Traveling Light
- Stars of Track and Field
- There's Too Much Love
- The Boy With the Arab Strap
- If You Find Yourself Caught In Love
- Simple Things
- Sleep The Clock Around
- Judy and the Dream of Horses (Encore)
- Me and the Major (Encore)
All of this older material gave the concert a bit of a feel of a reunion tour -- the kind of shows a band plays when they are past their prime, and cashing in on their former glory. I haven't had a chance to listen to their new CD yet, but I hope this isn't a sign that the band feels their best work is behind them. Nevertheless, I was happy to hear most of my favorite songs from their catalog, although I was profoundly disappointed when the microphone system cut out during my favorite song of all, "If You Find Yourself Caught In Love." Not only is it my favorite Belle & Sebastian song, it's one of my favorite songs period, and I was crushed to hear it inadvertently turned into an instrumental piece due to technological difficulties.
The band was also active in engaging the fans directly. Stuart, the lead singer, pulled an audience volunteer onstage to put mascara on him during "Lord Anthony" to tie in with a lyric about blue mascara running down a crying boy's face. He also recruited a cadre of dancers to join him during "There's Too Much Love," and launched signed merchandise into the crowd, which won him a tremendous amount of goodwill with the audience.
The devastating technological mishap that ruined my favorite song aside, the band had good energy, and put on a very entertaining live show. They did not improvise much, which I appreciated, as I tend to get annoyed when the songs I go to hear sound little like I expected. For me, Belle & Sebastian's performance was really everything I look for in a concert, and if I get the chance to see them again, I would jump at it, even if I have to wait another five years.