7 May, 2018
The dimly lit Tivoli is our haven against the dreary autumn night that Brisbane’s heavens have sprung on us. The forecast says showers, appropriate weather for tonight’s headliners, Scotland’s genre-bending aficionados: Belle & Sebastian. Though Wikipedia labels the band as indie-pop, Belle & Sebastian have proven over their strong discography that genre is no confine for the band, as they incorporate folk, blues and disco into their indie charm. And by the looks of the crowd, I am amongst people as diverse as the band’s music. Oldies hold hands at tables and sip wine under the dim lit ceiling, tight-panted hipsters trek the room looking for fellow-minded tight-pant enthusiasts, subtly sipping their red wine that they don’t like, and I stand at the back of the room behind the soundie as to not disturb my fellow punters with the sneezing and blowing of my nose. For I have a cold. And I’m hoping I make it until the end.
The lights dim further and opening act Totally Mild make the stage. The Melbourne band show a confidence in their performance, the lead vocalist stands centre stage; her vocals are captivating as she sharply transitions into a falsetto refrain. There’s a beautiful dissonance to Totally Mild, sometimes hauntingly rich vocals contrast against the tinny, bending guitar solos. It’s as if I’m listening to Dolores O’Riordan sing over a Pixies tune. Hell, I’d even go as far as to say some of the music is almost Bjork-esque; Totally Mild alternate tempo and rhythm with ease whilst still holding a solid pop feel. The drummer does a fantastic job of changing rhythms, his drum-acrobatics have me glued as his body and arms shift to keep in time. I’m very impressed with the unique blend of sounds Totally Mild conjure, it’s not your standard indie art pop. I’d even like to hear them go a few notches weirder. But nonetheless, they’ve impressed this sick dog.
Belle & Sebastian take the stage after a quick interlude, the stage is now packed with pianos, keyboards, guitars and enough space out the back to sit the drum kit. A large screen stands behind the band and it flickers with an old black and while film. The acoustic strums of You’re Just a Baby begin and the crowd cheers. Stuart Murdock’s boyish charm illuminates on stage, his colourful melodies perk everyone up on their dreary Monday night. Powerful vocal harmonies ring over the rich instrumentation. The band shift instruments like a game of musical chairs, nearly every member of the band now has a new instrument in their hand as they begin I’m a Cuckoo. The cheery pop tune has the crowd swaying and clapping with joy, Murdock’s lyrics are cleverly charming, and he knows it as he dances across the stage in his striking plaid pants. The tempo picks up as the band move into We Were Beautiful off their latest project How To Solve Our Human Problems. The uplifting chorus sees the inclusion of royal horns ring through the air; once again the band have moved instruments showing their multi-instrumental talents.
The screen behind the band lightens and more black and white films begins to play. It’s as if I’m immersed in a French film with Belle & Sebastian as the soundtrack. Step Into My Office, Baby begins and the crowd erupts. A flute melody rings out against the thumping of drums. The rich instrumentation the band incorporate live into their set is impressive, especially in an age of electronic ease. The band play with a theatrical appeal, showcasing years of perfection in both their music and performance. The song transitions from section to section, one moment a thick melody ridden chorus, into a paired back acapella verse; it’s almost like a White Album B-side.
Piazza, New York Catcher has the band showcase their solid folk classic, those standing at the back of the room are even singing along. Murdock welcomes Brisbane legend and Go-Betweens founder, Robert Forster on stage and they begin Forster’s Learn to Burn. It’s a welcome surprise and the Aussie twang fits nicely amongst Belle & Sebastian’s rich sound.
The band continue their set mixing newer songs with their classic hits; The Boy With The Arab Strap is a solid crowd pleasure. So much so that Murdoch invites those in the front to join him on stage. The happy-go-lucky folk tune is one of the band’s simpler songs, but it’s uplifting melody is infectious, and the crowd can’t help but dance. The band quickly transition into The Party Line, an even more upbeat tune. The Tivoli is transformed into a synth-laden disco; Murdoch’s plaid pants take centre stage as he dances back and forth. The band finish the night with Lazy Line Painter Jane, each instrument shines through in the rich tapestry of sounds the band once again conjures. It’s magical.
The beauty of Belle & Sebastian not only lies in their solid understanding of catchy melodies and their smart instrumentation, but in their welcoming and kind demeanor on stage. Whether it’s the friendly conversations with the audience, inviting fans to dance on stage, or the half-time slideshow of photos the band took while in Brisbane, Belle & Sebastian provide a hospitality in their shows that I have not experienced. It’s humbling, and something I wish other bands would adopt. And though the Scottish charm has ended for the night, the Scottish weather continues as I hop over puddles, still humming The Boy With The Arab Strap.