"Belle & Sebastian have good luck with weather, actually," remarked Stuart Murdoch three song's into his band's set on the Williamsburg Waterfront. "We've got God on our side." Murdoch was being cheeky but we were all praying -- or crossing our fingers -- that Tropical Storm Nicole would hold off long enough to let Belle & Sebastian make it through their show. The heavens never opened up, making for sticky but a highly enjoyable evening with one of the most genuinely charming bands on the planet.
This is a far different band than the one that shyly made their shambolic American debut at the Angel Orensanz Center at CMJ 1997. Belle and Sebastian know how to do big outdoor shows right, and Murdoch has turned into the kind of funny, charismatic frontman who has the crowd eating out of his hand the entire time. He joked about the percentage of dudes in the audience ("if it gets above 60% I quit"), and threw out autographed footballs to kids in the audience. "That last pass was from something we call 'rugby' which is superior to your American football."
Murdoch also invited some audience members onstage to clap for "There's Too Much Love" and "The Boy with the Arab Strap," including one dude who took the opportunity to unleash his inner Jarvis/Morrissey, clearly loving the spotlight. I think the Secret Service woulda flagged the guy as a threat; here Murdoch just laughed and let him dance and shake the tambourine. He also gave them all medals. "It's like the Indie Olympics!"
The 20-song set was a nice mix of old favorites with only four from the band's forthcoming Write About Love. There was a string section, which had me hoping we might get "Waking Up to Us" which didn't happen, but we did get the Tigermilk gem "We Rule the School," b-side "The Loneliness of a Middle Distance Runner," "The Boy with the Arab Strap" and four songs from If You're Feeling Sinister.
There was also "Step Into My Office Baby" (which I think the whole crowd thought was going to be "White Collar Boy" at first), the Thin Lizzy-esque "I'm a Cuckoo" and "Piazza, New York Catcher" from Dear Catastrophe Waitress and "Another Sunny Day" and "Sukie in the Graveyard" from The Life Pursuit. (I still haven't heard them do "The Blues are Still Blue.") Stevie Jackson's sole number of the night was Write About Love's "I'm Not Living in the Real World" which he enlisted the crowd's help for the "o0h ooh" chorus.
With the threat of rain, some bands might be antsy but the band never seemed to pay it any mind. By midset, I don't think the audience did either. It was a bad night for hair, but a great one for memorable shows. If you'd told me in January that two of my favorite concerts would be big outdoor productions I'd have scoffed. But between Pavement last week and Belle & Sebastian last night, I find it hard to believe anything will top them.
I missed most of opener Teenage Fanclub's set -- got there in time to hear "Sparky's Dream" and "The Concept" -- but I'd seen play a killer set earlier in the week at Bowery Ballroom. It didn't seem like the Sound Gods were doing them any favors, their signature harmonies muffled in the wind and humidity.
Setlists for Belle and Sebastian and Teenage Fanclub, plus lots more pictures below...
Belle & Sebastian
More tour dates HERE.
Teenage Fanclub - Setlist
Sometimes I Don't Need to Believe in Anything
I Need Direction
I Don't Want Control of You
Don't Look Back
Your Love Is the Place I Come From
When I Still Have Thee
Belle & Sebastian - Setlist
I Didn't See it Coming
I'm a Cuckoo
Step Into My Office, Baby
Dylan in the Movies
I'm Not Living in the Real World
Piazza, New York Catcher
I Want the World to Stop
Sukie in the Graveyard
We Rule the School
Another Sunny day
The Loneliness of a Middle-Distance Runner
Write About Love
There's Too Much Love
The Boy with the Arab Strap
If You Find Yourself Caught in Love
Judy and the Dream of Horses
Sleep the Clock Around
Me and the Major
Take Me Away from Here, I'm Dying