Belle and Sebastian are a delightful band to behold in concert, as these Scots proved once again Monday (Oct. 11) at the Chicago Theatre. The band has a fine new record out today called Write About Love, which doesn’t really break any new artistic ground. It just sounds like a fairly typical Belle and Sebastian record, with the band’s trademark mix of bright and wistful melodies. And that’s perfectly acceptable to me. I’ll take a new Belle and Sebastian record any day.
The seven members of Belle and Sebastian plus five supplemental players assembled across the Chicago Theatre’s capacious stage and opened their performance with the opening track off the new record, “I Didn’t See It Coming” — a great song that showcases within one track the band’s various strengths, including that lovely mix of male and female vocals. Belle and Sebastian front man Stuart Murdoch spent the first part of the song in a stiff pose, his hands in his pockets, a scarf hanging over his sport jacket. Midway through the song, as he took over the lead vocals, Murdoch loosened up and began dancing a bit. And before long, as the concert went on, Murdoch was moving around the stage with a jaunty step, acting as if the place was his own personal dance floor.
Murdoch really knows how to work a crowd. Early in the show, he compared the concert experience to foreplay and sex. “I promise you we will come at the same time,” he said. During “Lord Anthony,” he brought a woman from the audience onto the stage to apply some makeup to his face (in keeping with the lyrics of the song). Later, he threw soft footballs autographed by the band into the crowd. At another point, he went out in the audience and selected several people to clap and dance onstage. Pretty soon, it looked like a party up there on the stage, and a few of the ladies took the opportunity to kiss or hug Murdoch.
Although the concert opened with a song from Write About Love, Belle and Sebastian played only a few songs from the new record. Instead, the group offered something like a greatest-hits collection for its fans. By my count, Belle and Sebastian played songs from all of its studio albums except Storytelling (2002): one from Tigermilk (1996), four from If You’re Feeling Sinister (1996), three from The Boy With the Arab Strap (1998), one from Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like A Peasant (2000), five songs plus one B-side from Dear Catastrophe Waitress (2003), one from The Life Pursuit (2006), and three from Write About Love.
The most glorious musical moments of the evening came when the instruments dropped out and Murdoch and his band mates sang a cappella, or with minimal accompaniment. Their voices sounded pure and lovely.
SET LIST: 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 / The Stars of Track and Field / Mayfly / There’s Too Much Love / The Boy With the Arab Strap / If You Find Yourself Caught In Love / Simple Things / Sleep the Clock Around / ENCORE: Judy and the Dream of Horses / Me and the Major