Glasgow indie pop heroes Belle and Sebastian made their long-awaited return to Vancouver last Wednesday with a sold-out all-ages show at the Vogue Theatre.
Flowing from heartfelt balladry to uplifting synth, opener Perfume Genius (Seattle’s Mike Hadreas) exuded supreme confidence – except for a quip about hopefully not falling on his ass because of how much he liked doing squats onstage. (He didn’t.) Hadreas strutted with great poise, skimming the edge of the stage during numbers like “Sister Song”, knocking his fishnet stocking-covered knees together and shoulder-shimmying while bent over flat-backed. So vigorous were his movements that his shiny black heels clacked over the thunderous percussion of songs like “Queen”.
Whether solo on his Nord Piano or backed by his three-piece band, Hadreas shifted between vulnerable and seductive. Synths soared with his voice, which often broke into blood-curdling, Alan Vega-like shrieks; seeing Hadreas perform “Grid” in person assured he hadn’t lift them from Suicide’s timeless horror tale, “Frankie Teardrop”.
With nearly a score of releases over just as many years, it’s impossible for Belle and Sebastian to please fans with every nostalgic favourite and promote their newest record, Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance. But the panorama of smiles that stretched through the Vogue showed that the band made all the right picks.
Belle and Sebastian opened with Peacetime lead track “Nobody’s Empire”, which immediately led to “I’m a Cuckoo”. The lights then dimmed to highlight the background visuals: iPod commercial-like silhouettes dancing to “The Party Line”, also from the new album.
Frontman Stuart Murdoch descended into the crowd for handshakes and high-fives. “We’ll do hugs later,” he said jokingly as he returned to the stage with the most enthusiastic fans’ arms reaching towards him for sweet embrace. Murdoch & co. continued jumping back in time with “The Model”. Then, Murdoch did a quick bit of math: “We’re going six years back from the last track. This won’t mean anything to anyone.” But how incorrect he was: “Le Pastie De La Bourgeoisie” sparked as rousing a reaction as anything else they played.
Following “If You’re Feeling Sinister” and musing about Vancouver’s pot culture (and obliquely mentioning a topical “generous offer” from an unnamed magazine), Murdoch announced, “This one’s for anyone who’s stoned in the audience.” That song was “The Wrong Girl”, and judging by the overwhelming scent of “fresh-cut grass,” as he put it, the song could have been for everybody.
“We’re gonna play a short one, and then we’re gonna play a long one.” With a commanding finger, Murdoch pointed straight at the audience: “You’re gonna dance to the long one.” After the band wrapped “Simple Things”, fans filled the stage for a couple of songs that included “The Boy with the Arab Strap”. All dancing, synchronized two-stepping, taking turns wearing Murdoch’s hat, playing tambourine, and even one twerking. “That was good!” Murdoch beamed. “We don’t go out much. I feel young!”
But just as soon as Murdoch proclaimed his momentary sense of youthful vigour, he regretfully informed the crowd, “We’ll bid you good night with a sleepy song, to get you ready for bed.” What other song could that have been but “Sleep the Clock Around”?
Maybe Belle and Sebastian won’t be back in Vancouver for another five-plus years, but their smattering of classics and equally beloved current hits will surely sate fans until next time.
View the full gallery of Belle and Sebastian with Perfume Genius here.