Belle and Sebastian are utterly charming in Vancouver

Belle and Sebastian at Vogue Theatre, 6/28/18

Photos by Sharon Steele

It is safe to say that there is nothing “cool” about Scottish indie band Belle and Sebastian. But damn if they’re not utterly charming. The group is emotional and sweet to its core, spewing lyrics that strongly favour story and sentimentality.

On the road to promote their latest collection of EPs—How to Solve our Human Problems— the group’s Friday show at the Vogue Theatre sold out, prompting a second show last night (June 28). While the building wasn’t packed, the fans were adoring.

“We’re very glad to be north of the border,” said lead singer Stuart Murdoch, hinting at some very topical “human problems.” “I’m not saying other parts of the continent aren’t civil … it’s just good to be here.”

Belle and Sebastian have been active for over 20 years—those years have turned Murdoch into a fun-loving performer. He danced around the stage (again, not in a particularly “cool” way, but still), making eye contact with audience members and spouting lyrics from opening tracks “Show Me the Sun” and “Step into My Office, Baby,” at time literally on his knees.

Belle and Sebastian’s Thursday-night setlist spanned their entire career. From their debut Tigermilk, to selections from How to Solve our Human Problems, the group brought the audience into its world of cutesy love stories and eccentric characters.

Photos by Sharon Steele

However, the harmonizing elements Belle and Sebastian are known for in their albums do not quite transfer well to the live setting. Sometimes off-key and choppy, the evening did not hit home vocally. But it should be known that everyone can play their instruments pretty spectacularly—whether that be flute, cello, keytar, piano, violin, recorder, trumpet or guitar.

The Vogue was a happy crowd. Belle and Sebastian offered up a show for the fans, but not necessarily a show for newcomers. It’s a special thing seeing Murdoch, especially—a man with a lovely, soft voice who has spent much of his life battling Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Murdoch is endearing to his fans—and indeed has a knack for making you feel special and seen.

The group made an effort to connect with Vancouver, showing a Vancity-themed slideshow at one point in the evening.  As is their custom, they invited fans onstage to dance—evoking 60s doo-wop, feel-good vibes.

Belle and Sebastian participated in a fair bit of tongue-in-cheek banter—especially Murdoch and guitarist Stevie Jackson. Much of this banter centered on their critically unsuccessful “mid-period.” Finally, to avoid “disappearing up our arseholes,” they broke into mid-period tracks like “Jonathan David” and “Stay Loose.”

Photos by Sharon Steele

The highlight of the evening was no doubt 1998 hit “The Boy with the Arab Strap”—what a thrill to hear Murdoch sing the lyrics “colour my life with the chaos of trouble” as he pounded on the piano. Lacking was much from Write About Love—which is a shame given that that album is a high point in the group’s successful turn from bookish moodiness to upbeat, skip-down-the-street musicality—a switch they made with 2003’s Dear Catastrophe Waitress. 

All in all, the first Vogue show was lovely. If anything, it brought fans and artists close together in an intimate way we don’t often see nowadays. Who needs to be cool?

Belle and Sebastian play once more tonight at the Vogue Theatre, Friday, June 29th. 

Photos by Sharon Steele