While the rest of the country was being swept up in election fever last night (7 May), there was a full house at Cambridge Corn Exchange for cult Glaswegian band Belle & Sebastian.
Purveyors of the finest wistful indie pop, the band are on the road in support of their album Girls in Peacetime Want To Dance: the latest addition to an expansive back catalogue which now spans more than two decades.
The opening track was Nobody’s Empire, a song described by front man Stuart Murdoch as his ‘most personal ever’. The lyrics touch on his battle with chronic fatigue syndrome – not a cheery subject matter but a track brimming over with classic Belle & Sebastian charm, blending heartbreakingly intimate lyrics with an irresistibly catchy, uplifting melody.
Next up, a dive into the archives for a rendition of the jaunty I’m a Cuckoo from 2003’s Dear Catastrophe Waitress – surely one of the band’s best-loved hits and one which the crowd went wild for.
Setting the tone for the evening’s setlist, old was followed by new for the next track, The Party Line, a song which sees Belle & Sebastian in full-on disco mode, complete with pulsating bassline and shimmering synths. It might be a pretty dramatic departure from the delicate indie sound which the band are known for, but as with all the new material played on the night, the audience – many of whom could be seen jiggling around and enthusiastically mouthing the lyrics – lapped it up.
A bit of political banter followed, along with a harmonica-infused, slightly countrified version of Piazza New York Catcher, accompanied by Murdoch teetering along the barrier between the stage and the crowd. He’s a captivating front man, with flawless vocals, a surprisingly filthy sense of humour and an infectious energy – as well as a penchant for audience interaction (by the end of the show he’s gleefully dragging members of the crowd up on stage to dance with him).
Highlights of the gig were The Boy With The Arab Strap (yep, the one from TV’s Teachers), which predictably, brings the house down, as well as an energetic rendition of the funk-spliced Perfect Couples. One of my personal favourites from the new album, it perfectly showcases Murdoch’s lyrical prowess and elegant wit as he drily observes the demise of the couples he’d idolised ("Sexual tension at the fridge, he makes for the organic figs/Belmondo lips, dangling a cig").
The only slight disappointment in an otherwise brilliant evening was the choice of encore songs – rather than seize the opportunity to play one of their best-loved hits (Another Sunny Day or I Want The World To Stop, say), the band seemingly capitulated to pressure from one (very loud, very drunk) audience member and sang the song he’d been bellowing the lyrics for the preceding 10 minutes – Get Me Away From Here I’m Dying. A good song, by all accounts, but it ended the evening on a slightly subdued note.
It couldn’t put a dampener on what was a fantastic show though – the gig proved that nine albums in Belle & Sebastian are only improving with age; seasoned musicians at the very top of their game who know how exactly how to give an audience a great time.