the loud bassoon concert scene

Belle and Sebastian & Momus @ Metro, Chicago, USA
26 October 1998

Though they seemed like the best band ever upon discovery (and of course I discovered them "first"), Belle & Sebastian is fast becoming one of the most frustrating and disillusioning bands around. Excitement for seeing them live was enough to drag myself and a few friends out to see the show, but there seemed to be agreement that the show indicated a lame future for the band.

We love their records, but it feels like maybe they've gotten too hip too soon, or perhaps too many desperate white kids have latched on to them as the next "true alternative" band.

B&S are all that: If You're Feeling Sinister is a great record and the new one (The Boy With the Arab Strap) is spotty but also good.

But the new album, coupled with some very good but very precious EPs is starting to make me think maybe the band is just another "in crowd." Certainly their recent appearance at the Metro reinforced that impression.

My problem is this: it's wonderful to have things like "integrity" and "goodness" when it matters, but when you're on stage in front of 1,500 people, you better be prepared to rock out, or at least put on a show. Belle & Sebastian seem to think that they can take their intimate, college-kids-and-their-friends approach to the road, and I must say it doesn't quite work.

Don't get me wrong … I was very pleased to be able to see the band, and I'm not disappointed that I went … but I say, if you're not ready to put on a show, stay the fuck away from showbizness. You can always just make albums; no one's forcing you to tour.

Problem #1: The band switched instruments between almost every song, causing great delays during which a capacity crowd just stood there, awaiting something. This led to …

Problem #2: Too many delays, and the "smart" people in the crowd start shouting things out. And considering that B&S's fans are sort of like grown-up They Might Be Giants fans, but perhaps with a bit lower self-esteem, this made for some awkward moments.

Problem #3: Fixed set list (no requests), different for every show. Who is this designed to please, except for the band (in which case it's a serious self-indulgence) or set list-obsessed Internet fans? ("Oh my GOD they played THAT in MINNEAPOLIS!?!?!") I appreciate a band that's willing to play obscure material, but you gotta play the "hits" too.

Problem #4: Too many unrecognizable songs. Okay, you have only two albums in print, and yet you play loads of unreleased songs live? Please! You're a pop band, not Prince.

Problem #5: Opening act put on a better show. Momus turned in a highly memorable, kind of bizarre performance that encapsulated show-tuney swing, Britpop, music hall crooning, and junior-high pottymouth. Truly inaccessible, yet he had the crowd roaring with applause and laughter. Belle & Sebastian just left us there gawking.

Problem #6: No encores. "The food is terrible here … and in such small portions!"

How was the show, then? So-so. Stuart Murdoch has an amazing voice, and writes some great songs, but the "genius" tag is a bit diluted with some of this new material. One more album and B&S will prove themselves to be the next Sundays.

Stage presence was spotty, sometimes very charming and funny, other times incomprehensible and/or smugly standoffish. The band really needs to tighten up and just choose a fixed lineup.

Highlights included "Seeing Other People" (successful despite a bad sound mix) and the closing song, which escapes me now, but which had some impressive guitar playing.

Not a great show, but I'm hardly crying. Still, I renew my vow to stop seeing white rock shows.

Review by Jane Boone