Belle & Sebastian : London Astoria: December 4

Belle & Sebastian are quite simply the best pop act in Britain at the moment.

With recent album ‘Dear Catastrophe Waitress’ pushing them back into the national consciousness with a firm but fair jolt, [a]Belle & Sebastian[/a] are currently enjoying something of a renaissance. It’s well-deserved: now that Tatu deskjockey Trevor Horn is flicking their collective switches, the former fey shufflers of legend have grown into something a bit more red blooded. Something a little more exciting.

On the last of three sold-out nights at an Astoria decked out in festive tinsel and fairy lights, they burst straight into ‘Step Into My Office Baby’, with its bouncy horns, lush harmonies and blinding barbershop breakdown that makes you wish you joined the losers in choir at school for a few lunchtimes at the very least. Their sound fattened by a string quartet, we see them pluck the Wall Of Sound from [a]Phil Spector[/a] crazy gun-toting clutches and turn it into something rather fantastic. Then comes ‘I’m A Cuckoo’, which is B&S doing [a]Thin Lizzy[/a] and sounds much better than it has any right to.

In a typically [a]Belle & Sebastian[/a] move, midway through the set Murdoch makes his way over to the glockenspiel and plays a little tune while a man sculpts balloon animals, hats and cocks. The music, for those not au fait with I Love 1976, comes from ‘The Gallery’, a feature on ’70s kiddies art show Vision On where budding Van Goghs nationwide showcased collages of their pet dog. Now that’s what we call an intermission.

But what really gets the crowd going is, predictably, the old stuff. ‘Dylan in the Movies’ elicits hoots of glee from the audience and ‘Dog on Wheels’ is still a strikingly sweet ‘n’ sinister love song. It’s the finale of ‘The Boy With The Arab Strap’ that clinches it, though, with the entire venue erupting in a Boy Scouts-type campfire singalong, shimmying to the recorder solo like it was a pounding AC/DC riff.

So screw [a]Girls Aloud[/a], forget Busted, bugger Blue – Belle & Sebastian are quite simply the best pop act in Britain at the moment.

Leonie Cooper