Belle & Sebastian: Los Angeles, Hollywood Bowl, Thursday July 6
B&S celebrate 10 years as one of British indie’s best-kept secrets… in front of 18,000 Americans
As ways to celebrate a notable anniversary go, this is a goodie. It’s just over 10 years since Belle & Sebastian released debut album ‘Tigermilk’ and now, after an eventful decade involving surprise Brit Awards, inventing All Tomorrow’s Parties and inter-band romantic strife, the biggest UK cult act since The Smiths are playing to a sold-out 18,000 crowd at a legendary venue, previously graced by giants such as The Beatles, Billie Holiday, Monty Python’s Flying Circus and, the evening after this, The Bugs Bunny Roadshow.
To add an even classier touch, B&S have also hired local 80-piece orchestra The LA Philharmonic for the evening. As a result, the kind of greatest hits set you’d anticipate at such a milestone gig is tossed aside for a group of songs better suited to string-laden arrangements.
Because of this, the band’s most recent and most polished album ‘The Life Pursuit’ is almost completely ignored. But, 2003’s Mercury Music Prize-nominated ‘Dear Catastrophe Waitress’ benefits most from the new set-up, with five tracks being gleefully tackled by the group and their new members. The title track soars along on a melody more suited to a Loony Tunes cartoon; the Thin Lizzy-aping, bona fide hit single ‘I’m A Cuckoo’ sounds even more majestic than usual; while the graceful funk of ‘If She Wants Me’ is a welcome reminder that this band moved away from the indie ghetto – they are still so frequently considered to frequent it by many – a long, long time ago.
Frontman Stuart Murdoch’s antics indicate this even more clearly. He had earlier sauntered onstage during the instrumental set opener, ‘Fuck This Shit’, lapping up the adoration. He gets a girl up from the audience for a dance, while guitarist Stevie Jackson croons ‘Jonathan David’. He dons mascara, grabs a woman’s dress from the crowd and holds it close to him during ‘Lord Anthony’, the tragic tale of a cross-dressing young toff desperate to leave school to avoid being bullied.
Then, during a rollicking version of the band’s surprisingly slinky epic ‘Your Cover’s Blown’, Murdoch decides to go on a run through the crowd, getting to almost halfway up the Bowl’s steep inclines, mingling with fans and generally playing the showman. He resembles a camp Bono, only with better hair and much better songs.
The evening ends with a joyous, orchestra-free run through crowdpleaser ‘The Boy With The Arab Strap’. The crowd are encouraged to invade the stage, which many do in a good-natured manner. In fact, NME even spots some security guards joining in the fun with a few nimble moves of their own. Even they, it would seem, want to wish the band a happy anniversary. In a place where there are stars everywhere, it’s Belle & Sebastian who shine the brightest.