Belle & Sebastian–Live at The Tabernacle

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Time flies.  Belle and Sebastian last visited Atlanta in 2014, but my concert buddy and I saw them on what I think was their first visit to Atlanta on May 13, 2002.  A lot has changed since then.  Technically a seven piece band, they’ve only lost one member since then (trumpet), since replaced.  For touring they seem to have added two additional players.

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The concert began with the autobiographical song of band leader, Stuart Murdoch who has made no secrets in interviews that “… this is a pop band that sprang out of infirmity.”  “Nobody’s Empire” is a straightforward recounting and honest reflection of his affliction with chronic fatigue syndrome that preceded the forming of the band in 1996 and reappeared in the 2000’s.   A part of the lyric regards a co-sufferer:

Lying on my side you were half awake

And  your face was tired and crumpled

If I had a camera I’d snap you now

Cause there’s beauty in every stumble

Attitude is everything, as evidenced not only by the band’s body of work but the transition from the fairly timid performance of 16 years ago compared to the master of celebration that took the stage Sunday night.

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The remainder of the songs weren’t quite so frightening by subject or directness.  In fact, it’s the witty sketches of others, informed by Murdoch’s musings of others living their lives while ill, that launched the band.  That, and a knack for finding musicians willing to follow a vision and disregard essentially everything happening in the music world at the time.  

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And the band employs instruments aplenty.  Multiple keyboards, bass, electric and acoustic guitars, violin, cello, recorder, drums… and others… there’s generally something for everyone to contribute even as they routinely rotate instruments through the show.  Last time, I recall one to two members sitting at the edge of a stage between songs when they didn’t have anything to play.  No longer.

The concert included a variety of fan favorites, though certainly filled with holes by fan preferences.  That said, the band gets credit – they change the setlist each night, and the only seeming obligatory song was the inclusion of a female’s vocals on a video feed on “Play for Today,” an odd choice among so many better songs in any case.  

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Otherwise, backgrounds appeared much like the characters – faces, places and such that form the spine of Murdoch’s songs.  Having just arrived from Washington DC, Murdoch was careful to make it sound like he had been in town a while, mentioning the humidity and showing photos of some favorite graffiti in the area.  Maybe these were new, or maybe when the band recorded an album in Atlanta some years ago.  Happily, almost every song had a brief monologue, whether chatty or humorous, even including a promo for the band’s own cruise planned for next year.

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And then, the keyboard bass line of “Boy with the Arab Strap,” and the party begins afresh.  Inviting quite a number of fans on the stage to dance, the crowd was into it, with Murdoch inserting different lyrics at the end of the song, warning the dancers of the danger of falling off the edge of the stage and noting it would be a sad end to the band to be victim to a lawsuit.

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Party time.

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And, why not enter the crowd at balcony level?

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Throughout the show, Murdoch spent tons of energy.  With the other bandmembers grounded to their instruments, Murdoch danced the night away, fully confident in himself, the music and their audience, itself an interesting mix of ages and styles.

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Murdoch took requests for the encore, choosing two songs that have been frequently played in recent nights, choosing, appropriately, to close with one of the their more poignant early songs, “Judy and the Dream of Horses.”   Favorites for me were “The Fox in the Snow,” “Sukie in the Graveyard” and “The Boy with the Arab Strap” – if only they could have played all of the album.

Setlist:

Nobody’s Empire
I’m a Cuckoo
We Were Beautiful
The State I Am In
Seeing Other People
The Loneliness of a Middle Distance Runner
The Fox in the Snow
Sweet Dew Lee
I Want the World to Stop
The Wrong Girl
Sukie in the Graveyard
The Same Star
Play for Today
Another Sunny Day
The Boy with the Arab Strap
The Party Line

Encore:

Jonathan David
Judy and the Dream of Horses

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