Published Jul 16, 2019Belle and Sebastian are part of a prestigious pop music lineage; their music has become intrinsically attached to geography. They are proud to be Scottish and their music is laced with references to the country's prime musical heroes. Yet, unlike their contemporaries, Belle and Sebastian present something much more poignant underneath their preppy, sad-boy facade.
The band's set at MTELUS on Monday night was abound with subtle links to Scotland's storied artistic tapestry. Combining the despondent melancholy of bands like Orange Juice with the melodic sensibilities of the Jesus and Mary Chain, Belle and Sebastian are very much a way station for hopeless romantics everywhere. The sizable, devoted fan base that congregated were treated to an earnest performance of hits and misses.
People were there to hear the classics. The newer tracks on the set list wallowed in disco-cheese pastiche and wispy funk, but didn't subtract from the band's consummate musicianship. The attuned ear of puritans is where the audience began and ultimately ended. Whether or not the audience were familiar with Belle and Sebastian's more overlooked material, the band still managed to radiate the valance of a band with little or nothing to prove.
The visual setup employed home video projections, adding an element of kitsch and acting as a bit of a time capsule to their prime years. Main architect Stuart Murdoch was at the helm of the affair, dancing and joking his way through some the night's quieter moments, keeping the audience engaged and moving. He was joined by an orchestra of strings and horns, which added musical dimension. Murdoch took a moment to show a brief slideshow of the band's downtime in Montreal's Old Port; undeniably charming, it unfortunately brought the pacing to a grinding halt.
Classic tracks from the landmark albums, If You're Feeling Sinister and The Boy With the Arab Strap, effectively showcased the dichotomy at the core of Belle and Sebastian's sound — effervescent melodies counteracted by Murdoch's literary allusions and hyperbolized sadness. Despite the somewhat lukewarm execution of a few newer tracks, the band's classic material translates miraculously live and sounded especially snappy and painstakingly rehearsed.