With the exception of “Nobody’s Empire” and “Play For Today”, last year’s Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance was a bizarre change of pace for the folk pretty Belle And Sebastian; a harsher sound (if you can consider Pet Shop Boys being harsher than anything) dance beat and groove that didn’t quite work. On record “The Party Line” was a delicate dance track, with guitarist Stevie Jackson handling the heavy lifting. On stage last night, Stuart Murdock wondered aloud about the search for perfection and how it hurts romance. A good subject matter though better for the strange video projected above him than the song itself, Stuart and Stevie (there were fourteen musicians on stage but it is a two man band) joked about how they were the Grateful Dead or maybe Kid Creole And The Coconuts, and the work out worked in the details but in the broad strokes the song still didn’t click.
This left the Glasgow indie pop band of your dreams carrying a dance album which didn’t dance and it weakened the band on this 90 minute big time concert. I like Belle And Sebastian a lot when they are at their best but too often, the bands are a little too frail and, well, they are never at their best. When they started off, back in 1996, B&S were a mysterious collective of musicians. There were no pictures of the band circulating and there was no live gigs: they were a bafflement. By the second album, the masterpiece If You’re Feeling Sinister and the almost as good third The Boy With The Arab Strap, the band were out of the shadows with a sweet, tuneful, but wordy and serious lyricism, a lyricism that almost seemed to make the music lyrical, and photos and covers of NME and everything. I saw them at a packed out The Supper Club in 1998 and I’d compare them to early Los Campesinos, the sound was so filled it veered on sloppy and the stage so crowded it was a battle for space, and the vibe wasn’t the tweeness people discuss, but a hippie commune if they had hippie communes in the Barrowlands. With only three albums to choose from, it was overflowing with the milk of human weirdness, a Scottish bacchanalian Hogmany. A real blast of life.
Over fifteen years later I caught up with B&S again. But first 45 minutes of New Jersey’s Real Estate, a pleasant sounding wall of guitars ambient indie mood band I’ve seen several times and never failed to doze off during. They pondered the mood of their guitars and pondered the mood of their guitars. My buddy rock critic Mike Long said this about Real Estate, ” I was blown away by all that guitar goodness. Loved the first time I saw them. Just lush, melodic guitars“, but Mike is a sound guy and I’m not. Real Estate manage to make “How can I live to see the day” sound like a game of Trivial Pursuit. I once saw the lead singer smoke a joint before going on stage, not a great idea: if Real Estate were any more laid back they’d be comatose and if they were any less comatose they’d blow Belle And Sebastian off stage.
With five songs off the dreaded Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance, all the dancing girls, all the (fairly awful as well) Dum Dum Girls guest starring spots, all the film and all the players, couldn’t save this boring show. Stuart is a pleasant, unassuming MC and Stevie has a dry wit about him, they are into it, and friendly, with Stuart telling us his wife (I always thought he was gay but…) was almost in tears when she couldn’t make it, and a sense of occasion which didn’t include a good setlist. Hell, they blew off “The Stars Of Track And Field” (they’d played it in Philadelphia just the night before) and didn’t even consider “Seeing Other People” or “Me and The Major”, though we got a pleasant coupla tracks off If You’re Feeling Sinister, three off The Boy With The Arab Strap (they brought up audience members for the title track –the weirdest singalong ever), but a ridiculous four songs off Dear Catastrophe Waitress, added to the five off Girls In Peace, adds up to a lot of downtown.
Before the halfway mark I was wondering if maybe Belle And Sebastian were the musical equivalent of a girl you broke up with years and years ago, and still obsessed about, then you run into her in the streets and realize, you know, you really weren’t that crazy about to start with. There is something so irritating about these guys, the chirpy nice guys Scots are like would be Postcard Records interns if Postcard Records interns had been 40 somethings instead of teens. Not unlike Sun Kil Moon their song names don’t live up to their songs often enough, “Lazy Lane Painter Jane” sounds like it is something maybe but it isn’t “Dear Catastrophe Waitress” is a quirky mess.
Stuart is one of those guys that you meet at your local and he seems a little odd but nice enough but the more you get to know him, the more you want to hide from him: you find yourself peeking round the door of the “Horse And Hound” to make sure he isn’t in because he’ll tell you shaggy dog stories and be a boring funny guy. His schtick is growing old. For every “Nobody’s Empire” or “Seeing Other People”, he has a dozen “The Party Line”. Stevie is smug on top of it. Stuart plays Simon Pegg to Stevie’s Simon Cowell. Belle And Sebastian are the sort of guys the twerps in Real Estate namedrop, made for college kids who want to be sensitive more than they want to get laid. I would love to like B&S, I would love it if they were better. I love the entire concept surrounding them (not that it really exists), they are such good guys I feel as though I should stick up for them but I just can’t do it. They bored me to death.
Orange Juice would’ve never let them intern.
A fast rock & roll song performed with a retro punk vibe
Creem – America’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll Magazine, Reviewed Issue By Issue – April 1983 (Volume 14, Number 11)
the final issue edited by Susan Whitall
hard rock meets classic rock meets Americana
Chuck D is at the Grammy Museum
On The Red Carpet For The Screening Of “The Beast Inside” At The Angelica Cinema, Sunday, January 29th, 2023: pictures by Billy Hess
a powerhouse performance by Sadie Katz and SohoJohnny as you never thought you’d see him
that SNL gig was excellent
Miley rises to top of the celebrity food chain
captivating, hooklined, country pop songs
it’s a bit different because it’s smaller