Belle & Sebastian

Quiet triumph
By MATT ASHARE  |  March 7, 2006

ARRANGED: Belle and Sebastian seem to have found the perfect balance between preciousness and production.The last thing anyone would have expected from Belle and Sebastian after the languid poetics, soft-focus instrumentation, and tasteful trumpet refrains of If You’re Feeling Sinister — the 1997 album that introduced the Scottish band to US audiences — was producer Trevor Horn. But once strange Stuart David and shy cellist Isobel Campbell drifted away from the group, it was Horn who came to the rescue, teaching singer-songwriter Stuart Murdoch, guitarist Stevie Jackson, and latecomer Bob Kildea about things like arrangements for three-part harmonies, a rhythm section with a bit of a kick, and even the occasional heroic guitar solo. Perhaps he led them too far astray on 2003’s Dear Catastrophe Waitress (Matador), but with The Life Pursuit (Matador), it seems, B&S have stumbled on the perfect balance of Sinister’s preciousness and Waitress’s production and gained fans in the process.

Before the first of two sold-out shows at Avalon a week ago Monday, tickets on the street were going only for face value. But there wasn’t an inch of wiggle room inside the club once the New Pornographers packed up their gear and the equipment for first seven and then eight Belle and Sebastians was littered about the stage. It was like a trip back through time. As Murdoch opened with Sinister’s sinister first cut, “Stars of Track and Field,” the rest of the band kept so low, you could have heard a tear drop from the eyes of any number of the indie faithful who’d gathered in front as they looked up to their dressed-down hero. And then Mick Cooke’s trumpet moved into the spotlight and injected the melancholy air with its plaintive wail. Indeed, the band remained curiously quiet throughout the set, even when a spiffy, suit-and-tied Jackson took his turn at the mike for the upbeat “Be Myself Completely,” with its soulful Motown groove. Hard to call anything this low-key a triumph. Just as hard not to.
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