It has been two years since Glasgow-based indie-pop icons Belle and Sebastian released Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance. The album was a well-received synth laden return after an extended five-year break between albums. Luckily fans will not have to wait as long for new material this time. The band have been working on new music to be released by Matador Records later this year and have set off on a summer run of North American tour dates accompanied by a newly released single, We Were Beautiful. Shortly after performing at New York’s Panorama Music and Arts Festival, Belle and Sebastian were joined by Andrew Bird for a sold-out show in Raleigh at the North Carolina Museum of Art.
Outdoor shows during the summer months in the southern States can be a bit of a hit or miss affair. The weather can often be oppressive, with high heat and humidity the norm instead of the exception, and there is always the chance of afternoon and evening thunderstorms cropping up, seemingly out of nowhere. Fortunately, the Monday night crowd that filled the North Carolina Museum of Art’s outdoor amphitheater for the Belle and Sebastian show were treated to what could be considered perfect summer weather. The air was unseasonably cool, with a light breeze, low humidity and not a cloud to be seen. Without the uncomfortable conditions, the crowd was in an extra good mood as Andrew Bird took the stage to kick off the evening. The Chicago singer-songwriter and classically trained multi-instrumentalist picked up a guitar and reached back into his catalog to launch his set with “Fiery Crash” from 2007’s Armchair Apocrypha. Backed by a trio of talented musicians, Bird mixed elegantly layered arrangements with infectious pop melodies. It seemed that with each song played, the emotion and energy increased before the set slipped into its cruising altitude with the one-two punch of “Capsized” and “Roma Fade,” the first two tracks off his most recent release, last year’s Are You Serious. Bird seamlessly switched between guitar and violin throughout the performance as he delivered his comforting vocals and signature whistled melodies. If the songs from Are You Serious provided the lift-off to the set, they also provided the smooth landing, as the set closed on a high with a trio of recent tracks including “Are You Serious,” Valleys Of The Young,” and “Pulaski.” Andrew Bird’s quirky mix of symphonic complexity mixed with pop simplicity was well received by the attentive and appreciative crowd.
Belle and Sebastian released their debut album, Tigermilk, back in 1996. Since that time, they have released 9 albums over the span of 21 years. They have won over both fans and critics, mixing introspective and emotional lyrics with contagious melodies and upbeat rhythms. Hitting the tour trail without a new album to promote, or a big reunion necessitating a greatest hits nostalgia-fest, the band were afforded a freedom to mix things up and play songs that they enjoy playing as well as a mixture of hits and deep cuts to thrill their longtime fans. Heck, they were even able to road test new material. The crowd positively erupted as the band took the stage and leapt into “The Act Of The Apostle” from mid-catalog release, The Life Pursuit. By their second song, the sunny “I’m a Cuckoo,” the crowd were up and grooving. Singer and frontman Stuart Murdoch led the dance party, often gravitating to the front of the stage to close the gap between artist and fan. Despite the well-coordinated tight playing of the stage-filling seven-piece band behind him, the audience remained fixated on the charismatic Murdoch as he juggled singing, dancing, playing guitar, and the occasional turn behind the keyboard. The set highlights included a run through the fresh new single, “We Were Beautiful,” as well as “She’s Losing It,” and “Sukie In The Graveyard,” before dedicating “Piazza, New York Catcher” to not just baseball fans, but all the sports fans in attendance. With each song, the energy increased and the connection between band and fans strengthened… Culminating in Stuart Murdoch leaping off the stage to wander through the crowd. Sticking to the summer tour theme, the band played “I Know Where The Summer Goes,” “Stay Loose,” and “A Summer Wasting” before inviting a large portion of the crowd on stage to dance along to “The Boy With The Arab Strap.” The set closed with “Judy And The Dream of Horses,” before the band returned for a two song encore consisting of “The Party Line” and “The Blues Are Still Blue.”
The ideal summer night can be built around numerous things, great weather, time spent with friends and family, taking a break from the stress and responsibility of day to day life, or cutting loose with some fun, spirit-lifting music. Occasionally all those things intersect like they did at the Belle and Sebastian show.
Belle & Sebastian + Andrew Bird @ NC Museum of Art – July 31st 2017