Just after the first three songs of the band’s set list, Belle & Sebastian frontman Stuart Murdoch stopped for a moment to check on his bandmates’ morale. Guitarist Steve Jackson quickly answered him with a resounding, “Never been better” – a statement that truly reflected the band’s Sunday night performance at Los Angeles’s Wiltern LG.
Opening with a rousing performance of “Act of the Apostle,” off of the recently released The Life Pursuit, the members of Belle & Sebastian were in high spirits, often taking time out of their jam-packed set list to grow more intimate with the audience.
Murdoch shook hands with his fans in the pit, thanking them for coming to the show and even invited a few guests on to the stage to clap during a performance of “Funny Little Frog.” He also revealed to the crowd that The Life Pursuit’s “Sukie in the Graveyard” was written about a girl he met in San Francisco who would save money by sleeping in her university’s attic.
Throughout the night, the band and audience both fed upon each other’s intense level of enthusiasm and energy. Murdoch, donning a large smile and boulder cap, made himself at home, often musing aloud about his bandmates’ misadventures on tour.
Sarah Martin’s violin playing and vocal accompaniments echoed gracefully throughout the Belle & Sebastian set list, while Jackson’s guitar riffs and solos frequently stole the show. Jackson especially triumphed during his performance of “To Be Myself Completely,” where he took over as lead vocalist and kept the excitement escalating.
Belle & Sebastian were also gracious enough to take requests from the audience and play an abundant amount of their older songs. With a catalogue that spans nearly a decade, the band picked and chose hits from If You’re Feeling Sinister such as “Get Me Away from Here, I’m Dying,” and “Judy and the Dream of Horses.” Similarly thrilling performances included “It Could Have Been a Brilliant Career” and “I’m a Cuckoo” from The Boy With the Arab Strap and Dear Catastrophe Waitress, respectively.
However, the most engaging moment of the concert stemmed from a surprising inclusion of one of Belle & Sebastian’s oldest songs, Tiger Milk’s “Electronic Renaissance” – a title that delivers what it promises. The insanely infectious electro-pop classic mystified the crowd, causing several audience members to joyfully scream throughout the song’s five minutes of grandeur.
The concert’s only downfall was its use of If You’re Feeling Sinister’s “Me and the Major” as a closing number. On its own, the song is awe-inspiring, but as the final encore, it failed to bring any sort of closure in comparison to some of Belle & Sebastian’s more soulful album cuts. Aside from this, rest assured that the band is providing concert-goers with one of the year’s finest shows.
Tour mates the New Pornographers also proved to be a strong supporting act, despite the absence of band members Neko Case and Dan “Destroyer” Bejar. Opening with the title track from Twin Cinema, the Pornographers ravaged the audience with nearly an hour of clever power-pop. Having fine-tuned their set list since their fall tour, the band added new textures and accompaniments to songs such as “The Bones of an Idol.”
The New Pornographers also reworked some of their older titles, improving upon them for our enjoyment. Porns drummer Kurt Dahle joined in on the singing, showing that he, too, possessed a refined vocal range. Dahle was especially entertaining to watch as his drum skills helped the songs soar in an almost carefree fashion as he spun his drumsticks throughout the set.
The newest band member, keyboardist Kathryn Caldwell (niece to frontman Carl “A.C.” Newman) also held her own, often taking over for Case on fan favorites like “The Laws Have Changed” and “Mass Romantic.” She will no doubt become an asset to the band on future albums as Case becomes increasingly busy with her solo career.
Most notable was Newman who served as the group’s fearless leader, driving the punches on the band’s repertoire of catchy tunes. Newman appeared confident as he made jokes about Canadians stealing his niece’s keyboard and hearing the Doors’ “L.A. Woman” on the radio while driving to the venue. His talent was best highlighted during his performance of “Sing Me Spanish Techno,” which got the crowd dancing and bobbing their heads – a feat that is usually difficult to achieve as an opening act. The New Pornographers, Bejar and Case included, continue to get better with each album, and as their L.A. performance shows – so do their live sets.