LIVE REVIEW: Belle and Sebastian @ Rough Trade East, London

Belle and Sebastian
Photo: Hollie Fernando

From writing a song about a “Funny Little Frog”, the Glaswegian septet have been known for their entertaining live antics. At the 2015 Bonnaroo Music Festival the band invited actors John Hamm and Zach Galifianakis on stage during their set “to toss gummy bears in each other’s mouths”. With the compact stage at Rough Trade, there was just about room for the band and their many instruments. The seven-piece deserve credit for playing as a full ensemble as many acts have previously opted for stripped down sets owing to Rough Trade’s lack of space.

With the promised heatwave bashfully coming into fruition, and with the tight space being sold out, the room temperature was exceptionally high. Frontman Stuart Murdock, who seldom takes off his cardigan, removed it to reveal a white slim-fit t-shirt. While this gig accompanied the signing of their latest LP, A Bit Of Previous, the set mainly focused upon the most sentimental songs to fans from their back catalogue.

Belle and Sebastian opened with "String Bean Jean", a song from their Dog on Wheels EP, which was released exactly 25 years ago from the date of this gig. The rendition of this lyrically youthful and hopeful catchy spaghetti western guitar sounding classic confirmed to their global fan base, which included some Brazilians in the audience why they initially fell in love with Belle and Sebastian. The set also included the hauntingly bass-led with jubilant trumpets "Dog on Wheels" from this EP. As well as songs from classic EPs, the band included songs from their nineties repertoire; “Chickfactor” with its Bacharach arrangements and the melancholy darkness of REM’s “Nightswimming” taken from The Boy with the Arab Strap.

A third of the set consisted of new songs. The first to be played was “Unnecessary Drama”. Whilst a personal youthful retrospective, the energy and infectious power of Stevie Jackson’s harmonica inspired constant hand clapping from the crowd, showing that Belle and Sebastian are neither tiring or short of fresh ideas. The positive reaction to “Unnecessary Drama” equalled that to the songs played from The Boy with the Arab Strap and Dog on Wheels. “If They’re Shooting at You” from A Bit Of Previous immediately followed. This harmonious, gospel organ and brass led song released to raise funds for the Red Cross is a poignant “song about being lost, broken and under threat of violence” which left the crowd equally solemn and hopeful. One of the other new standout new songs played, “Young and Stupid”, with emotive violin from the outset, evoked halcyon memories.

This gig was not about chart-toppers such as "I'm a Cuckoo" and "Funny Little Frog"; it was about reliving good memories and, with A Bit Of Previous material, creating new memories too. The Tigermilk classic “She's Losing It”, upbeat in spite of the song’s dark subject matter, was another reminder of how Belle and Sebastian created an acoustic led and brass following classic. After the acoustic came an electric guitar-led gem, “Another Sunny Day”. The comical wordplay, including, “You were digging plants, I dug you, beg your pardon…” added to the feel-good factor of this song. The final track, “Legal Man”, owing to its psychedelic elements, bombastic bongo drumming and The Monkees style organ, is probably the most unique song Belle and Sebastian have made.

Fans were more than satisfied having been able to celebrate Belle and Sebastian’s past and present. Both felt equally unique and heartfelt throughout.

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