Belle & Sebastian - Cambridge Corn Exchange

So what do you expect when you go to a Belle & Sebastian show? This was the question I pondered to myself as I braved the bitterly cold Cambridge night and headed down to the Corn Exchange. With a back catalogue stretching back 11 years, 7 albums and numerous EP’s the set list could be just about anything...

First up though was the impressive Brakes. Their debut album last year was one of my highlights - an enthusiastic mix of garage punk, rock and a twist of country with songs detailing snorting cocaine, annoying London-types at gigs and falling in love with a woman 67 inches tall. They seem an antidote to Belle & Sebastian’s' twee tales and not all the crowd seem to get them, but those that do are enthusiastic. Considering their 16 track album is just under 30 minutes long, they play most of it including a bonus Camper Van Beethoven cover. Finishing with the extravagant "Comma comma comma full stop" a full 8 seconds of unadulterated joy, they do it twice as Eamon missed a chord at the end...



Then it was the main show. Stuart Murdoch appears on stage dressed in a kind of head boy outfit with a hat David Bowie would have been proud of during his Let's Dance phase. They start the evening off with the lead track off the new album. Now this is a brave choice - many in the audience haven't had a chance to listen to this yet (I have though and the review will be up shortly...) so as a means of winning over the crowd it’s ambitious - especially when they roll in the full length version including the second part of it. The response is lukewarm and Murdoch seems to realise this - one heckler shouting "You've lost it" and it almost feels as though he has...

However, a storming version "If You're Feeling Sinister" gets one of the loudest cheers of the night and after this the atmosphere becomes noticeably more relaxed. There's more banter between Murdoch and the usually quiet Cambridge crowds and most of it favourable, certainly Mr. "You've lost it" is quiet. This is where the evening picks up. They don't always get it right, some of the numbers seem to lack an edge live and turn into a strum-athon. With a band like B&S who don't, as my friend said "rock", they have to be careful not to one pace the set list. What does strike me tonight is how good Murdoch's voice is live. It may sound whimsical on record, but tonight it's clear, loud and focused with a depth not apparent on the albums.

The highlights of the night include the wonderful single "Jonathan David", "I'm a Cuckoo" and "Get me away from here, I'm dying". With these the crowd are involved - swaying and singing along. It's perhaps damming that the more recent material is received in a more lukewarm manner to some of the older material; that although they've been around for 11 years, perhaps their best are behind them. I'd like to think that isn't the case and there should always be a place for Belle & Sebastian's music. Sure it's not fashionable (was it ever?) and, like Alan Bennett's plays, it's set in a past that seems to be slipping away.

But let's not end on a downer - this was a great evening once they'd found their feet and it's still great to hear some of the old favourites live. It's only because they have such an impressive back catalogue that no matter what set list they play someone is always going to go home disappointed.

Pictures courtesy of www.valerioberdini.com

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