In Belle and Sebastian’s early days, their diaphanous songs could seemingly waft away on a stiff Scottish gale. Nowadays, the Glaswegian septet's twee indiepop sound is more robust, with an electronic edge that can, under the right circumstances, get people dancing.
The crowd at the Palace Theater on Tuesday night was rather staid, except during a couple tunes toward the end where fans were brought on stage to dance. But the band dug deep into their back catalog during a 95-minute set that exemplified just why they captured our hearts in the first place.
Frontman Stuart Murdoch did his best to get us to forget the headlines (and the fact that it was a Tuesday night), engaging the audience with jokes about the supposed rivalry between Minneapolis and St. Paul, how he played the piano like Schroeder on “Seeing Other People” after seeing Peanuts statues everywhere around town, and how happy the band was to have drummer Richard Colburn back with the band after leaving him in North Dakota on the way to Minnesota. (Stuart cheekily called “A Summer Wasting” “A Drummer Wasting” in honor of Richard’s ordeal).
It was a celebratory show, even if at times it felt like the spark of those early days had dimmed just a bit. Many of us fell in love with these intimate, enlightened songs from the comfort of our home stereos, so openly sharing the tender emotions of “Seeing Other People,” “We Rule the School,” and “Photo Jenny” in a crowd of strangers can be a challenge. But Murdoch always proves an affable (if a bit awkward) guide to letting your guard down, openly connecting the audience with the music.
“This country is a great country. And it’s a great country because of the people,” Murdoch passionately announced halfway through the show. “And the people aren’t the ones you see on Fox News. We are all going though tricky times. But it’s a blip. We will win. Peace will win. Gentleness will win. That’s what makes a great country.” It was such a simple, decidedly Belle and Sebastian statement to make, but you couldn’t help but believe him.
The upbeat numbers in the set were a nice counterbalance to the more serene moments, with “I’m a Cuckoo,” “The Boy with the Arab Strap,” and “The Blues Are Still Blue” (which Murdoch introduced by saying, “It’s going to get heavy – at least heavy for us”) providing a welcome jolt of energy. But ultimately, the music of Belle and Sebastian is most effective when the songs work their way into your heart, your mind, and (on occasion) your hips, and “The State I Am In” is a perfect example of the band’s delicate charms. “We’re going to go back to pretty much the first song we ever recorded, if that’s all right with you,” Murdoch announced, and of course the crowd was happy to hear it. It was a glorious moment, and ended the main set on an absolute high.
The vibrant pulse of “The Party Line” kept things festive, before the ode to the power of ambition and individuality “Judy and the Dream of Horses” brought the set to a triumphant close. Through their music, Belle and Sebastian have made being an outcast acceptable, turned being quirky and shy into an art form, and transformed a wayward pursuit of love and companionship into a 20-year career. In that respect, gentleness has already won.
Critic’s bias: I traveled to Glasgow because I fell in love with the city through Belle and Sebastian’s music. Much like when I moved to Minneapolis in 1992 and felt like I already knew the city because of the music of Prince, the Replacements, and Soul Asylum, I felt like I already knew Glasgow intimately because of how vividly Stuart Murdoch described that city.
Act of the Apostle
I’m a Cuckoo
We Were Beautiful
A Summer Wasting
Seeing Other People
The Loneliness of a Middle Distance Runner
We Rule the School
Little Lou, Ugly Jack, Prophet John
I Can See Your Future
Play for Today
The Boy with the Arab Strap
The Blues Are Still Blue
The State I Am In
The Party Line
Judy and the Dream of Horses