Belle & Sebastian @ Albert Hall review for Silent Radio

14th May 2015

The Albert Hall is positively buzzing tonight; there are lots of smiling faces, flowery dresses and woolly jumpers. All shrouded in excited chatter. It’s 9pm and Belle and Sebastian are about to take the stage for the first night of two shows in Manchester, part of their sold out UK tour.

The Scottish indie outfit have been knocking about for a while now, next year will be the twentieth anniversary of their first album Tigermilk. Since its release they’ve been voted ‘Best Scottish Band of all time’ and enjoyed some chart success with songs like ‘Funny Little Frog’, signed to Rough Trade and even lent a song to TV with ‘The Boy with the Arab Strap’ featuring on Channel 4’s Teachers.

They open with ‘Nobody’s Empire’, the first track from their new album Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance, a song in which front man Stuart Murdoch opens up about his sometimes lonely battle with chronic fatigue syndrome singing: ‘From this hiding place life was way too much it was loud and rough round the edges’. The song is a testament to his defined skill as a lyricist and storyteller but also the ease in which he can fit his words into so many memorable melodies.

The album itself is a shift for the usually twee-pop sounding band, taking a dive into 70’s disco. The single ‘The Party Line’ is all synths and funky bass lines and sounds as good as it does on the record tonight with the six-strong band backed with so many additional live members I lose count. The stand-out song of the night, and from the album, is ‘Perfect Couples’. Guitarist and occasional singer Stevie Jackson takes the lead on this Talking Heads-esq track; beginning with bongos, xylophones and cow-bells that builds to an exciting jammed-out coda that has Murdoch dancing like David Byrne by the end. This is all backed by a clever short film playing at the back of the stage featuring young couples stuck in domestic limbo.

Murdoch’s songs have always been, and still are, inhabited with themes of young love and being at school. At times though tonight, it has been difficult to relate to this. One such contrast is when Murdoch talks to the crowd of fatherhood, regaling a story about spending the previous day visiting his young son at home, in Glasgow.

After rapturous cries from the crowd, the band returns to encore with fan favourites ‘The Boy with the Arab Strap’ and ‘Legal Man’, pulling people from the audience to join them on stage for a dance. Murdoch dedicates final song ‘Get me Away from here, I’m Dying’ to the late Tony Wilson (due to the band’s tour accommodation at Tony Wilson Place). Murdoch comments on the North’s post-election wishes of joining Scotland by saying ‘Maybe we could lower Hadrian’s Wall just a little.’ It seems a lot of the crowd would happily oblige judging by the elated atmosphere of the room. It’s no surprise really. Murdoch and Jackson’s interactions and patter with the crowd is charming and warm; a perfect way to be left feeling at the end of any gig.

Read at Silent Radio

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