Belle and Sebastian: Friends in T.O.

Photos: Jorge Ignacio Castillo

There is probably no better time to see a band live than when they are not promoting a new album. Two-and-a-half years removed from debuting the fun, bouncy “Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance”, Belle and Sebastian hit the stage last night in Toronto with a set that seamlessly mixed greatest hits and deep cuts.

The show, which kicked off the North American leg of their 2017 tour, was a nearly two-hour solid demonstration of musical proficiency. Belle and Sebastian indulged on their penchant for classism, arching back to the band’s chamber-pop days, when the presence of a violin, cello and trumpet was a given.

The easygoing nature of the Scottish group was in full display through lead singer Stuart Murdoch. The gregarious, unassuming Murdoch believes he can take the pulse of the city by their public transportation system (he is not wrong). Stuart was a bit troubled by the TTC, but came to the conclusion once pot is legalized, nobody will mind.

Belle and Sebastian’s communion with their fans reached its apex when Murdoch invited a couple of dozens to dance on stage during the rendition of “The Boy with the Arab Strap”. This stunt has become a B&S staple, although unlike in 2015, not everybody was dressed as an extra from Murdoch’s movie God Save the Girl (fantastic movie, by the way. Worth looking out).

When you have a catalogue as rich as Belle and Sebastian’s, you are bound to leave audiences wanting. They played the hits “Piazza, New York Catcher”, “The Party Line” and “Judy and the Dream of Horses”, but fan favorites “Another Sunny Day” and “My Wandering Days Are Over” fell by the wayside. Having seen the Scots perform twice, I’m starting to lose hope I’ll ever see “Write About Love” live.

An unexpected highpoint was the stirring “Little Lou, Ugly Jack, Prophet John”, accompanied by gorgeous comic book illustrations as background. It was Belle and Sebastian distilled to its essence.

The band chose the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts to debut a song from their untitled, undated upcoming album. With Stevie Jackson taking over leading vocals, if the tune is any indication, the new record will step back from the disco-inspired “Girls in Peacetime…”, while persisting on an electronic vibe. (Speaking of which, a new single they didn’t play last night just dropped today, “We Were Beautiful”.)

Belle and Sebastian has only one more date scheduled for Canada this year (Osheaga Festival, August 4th in Montreal). Here is hoping for more stops in the Great White North in 2018, with a new record to flaunt.

Author: Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Journalist, film critic, documentary filmmaker, and sometimes nice guy. Member of the Vancouver Film Critics Circle. Like horror flicks, long walks on the beach and candlelight dinners. Allergic to cats.

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