review archive

Belle and Sebastian 29/6/01 Royal Albert Hall

Manners, manners. Elderly ushers politely greet us at door two in the vast circumference of the Albert Hall. Courteous announcements advise us to make our way to the auditorium five minutes before each act. The gap in between bands is called an interval! The crowd doesn't push and shove and stand on one another's toes. My shoe adheres itself to the floor on a large gob of chewing gum. We've come to see Belle & Sebastian!

But you're friends are all serious ravers…
At nine o'clock precisely, the band plus various supplementary musicians appear, launching into 'Le Pastie De La Bourgeoisie'. The Albert Hall is notorious for it's dodgy acoustics, and tonight has got to be the worst yet. Everything is way too quiet and tinny, and the song's fantastic head-spinning rollercoasting climax is somewhat lost. Stuart Murdoch seems bemused by the agonised cries to turn it up, but the sound gradually improves, or maybe our ears become accustomed to it's atrocities. The band look at home on the grand stage, at ease facing the teetering tiers of seats towering around us.

B & S fans?

I could dance all night like a soulboy…
The soaraway string section make like dervishes for 'There's Too Much Love' as Stuart showcases his wonderful joyously spammy dancing. Isobel, on the other hand, alternates between bored and sulky, slumped behind her cello or desultorily rattling a tambourine. She is dressed immaculately in a Bob Dylan print shift-dress, black tights and cardigan with (of course) Mary-Jane shoes, reminding me of a Moldy Peaches line, 'You'd rather be holding hands with some pretty skinny girl who likes to talk about bands'.


It's not as if I'm being sent off to war…
Stevie is losing his voice and has to psyche himself up for 'Jonathan David' with a glass of water as Stuart tells us Stevie had gone missing today right up until one minute before they were due onstage. Someone shouts out, 'Rock and Roll!' Despite a few croaky notes, the song sounds exuberantly ace.
Have you seen enough?
In fact, 'Jonathan David' is positively boisterous next to the fragile, 'Don't Leave The Light On Baby'. There has obviously been some serious rehearsing and getting of collective shit together.

Bob Dylan dress

There is mucho instrument swapping, Stuart singing sideways on from the keyboards at various points, Isobel looking awkward behind a guitar. Harmonies take on a sunbaked Buffalo Springfield shimmer, whilst some of the brass bits (courtesy of Mick, his collection of instruments arrayed before him, french horn particularly impressive) push the songs into Love territory, although rather less fried, obviously.

You're not impressed by me / But it's a funny way for you to tell me…
After 'The Model', there is jeering from the audience, and as Stuart protests that they're doing their best, we turn round to see Waldorf and Statler the two old curmudgeons from 'The Muppet Show' ensconced at the back. Stuart clambers off the stage and makes his way over to them as they sneer that anyone in the audience could do better. Aha! A group of three friends is chosen for the grisly deed and one of them suggests 'The Final Countdown' by '80s poodleheads Europe for their karaoke piece. The rest of the band, obviously taking the whole thing very seriously, put their heads together and come up with a masterful tea-dance-esque take on the song.


I gave myself to providence…
As the thrilled chosen ones reach the stage, the band begins 'The State I Am In'. One of the girls grabs the mic and belts out the first verse. Blimey, she can sing! Not quite the voice you'd expect (or really want) to be singing B&S songs, but hey, at least she's trying. Her friends, Other Girl and Morrissey Bloke (yes there are still people who look like that) dance around her, becoming more confident until Morrissey is shimmying back and forth along the very front of the stage, swapping moves with Stuart. Words fail Singing Girl and eventually Stuart is drafted in to share the end of the song. The three friends leave the stage hugging each other with excitement.
But part of the deal is for you to feel something…
Everyone claps and cheers as the somewhat static audience starts to warm to proceedings.

What do you make of the cool set in London…
'The Boy With The Arab Strap' is, of course, storming, with the whole audience clapping along and a group of girls breaking free to go-go dance in an empty corner of the seated section, before being reprimanded by an usher.
Because you saw him at the celebrations standing at the side…
Bobby Kildea of V-Twin has been taken on to share guitars and stuff. Is he going to be a permanent B&S member? C'mon, there needs to be a genyoowine pretty boy in the band, even if with his new '70s layered 'do he's not looking quite so angelic as on the cover of 'Jonathan David'.
'You can wish because I'm not here to fool around…
'Family Tree' and Isobel's sweet delicate voice is almost lost in the swirling abyss of Albert's acoustics. Oh yes, she smiled briefly during the 'karaoke' bit.
Stuart announces a new song, 'I Love My Car' (?) all about how he, er, loves his car. Which is called Max. Apparently.


I went looking for a sign…
'The Wrong Girl' is Lee Hazlewoodly lovely and immediately becomes one of my favorites.
I'm thinking of a song or two, a boy a girl a rendezvous…
More of Isobel's whispery vocals on 'Women's Realm.
I'll render services that you may reasonably require…
The familiar twangling intro to 'Legal Man' prompts a massed bout of twisting and shouting followed by squeals of delight at Stevie's deep vocal in the middle. It's such a groovy ending that I don't even realise there's been no 'Lazy Line-Painter Jane'.

Dreaming of anything…
Then they're back and of course they play 'LL-PJ' and of course it's spine-tingling. Monica Queen, skipping about in t-shirt and jeans, plaits flying, looks too childlike to be belting out the vocals in that amazing voice.
Makes no difference what group I'm in…
Finally we get a rather odd shuffle-beat version of Sly & The Family Stone's 'Everyday People'. Then that's it, twenty-ish fantastic pop songs. Of course everyone has a favourite that didn't get played ('Seeing Other People'?), but the band seem to be playing different songs every night of this tour so maybe we should have just gone to every gig.
Dreaming of anything
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