The ‘call to arms’ is one of pop’s most common tropes. From P!nk to Pulp, Gaga to MCR, making yourself the carefully-styled face of the disenfranchised is a sure-fire way to sell more posters.
But this is Belle & Sebastian. If ever a group of people was put on this earth to give freaks and literary geeks a rallying point, they all met in Glasgow in the mid ‘90s, formed this shy indie band, and produced quiet, sad, pretty songs for quiet sad people: not necessarily so much pretty. They’re just not like the other boys at school, everything screams, as loud as it dares.
Looking around at the crowd produced a wide range of cardigans and specs. There were a lot of shoes which spent their entire lives under very close scrutiny.
So, of course there was going to be an orchestra. Of course it was going to be sitting down in the Symphony Hall. The support act was always going to be a comedian telling a musical story about a kid and his quiet dramas and struggles at school. It was a Belle & Sebastian concert, it was always going to be different.
It was just a gig. Of course there were going to be songs I didn’t know. A lull in the middle of the set. People dancing to the old classics.
Of course, every single one of those dancers was a standing individual in the aisles of a completely sat-down hall. So when little groups got up, you noticed. And, providing you’re me, you smiled an irrepressible smile. Of which there were plenty.
The gig wasn’t just a call to arms, it was a call to feet. The entire show was geared towards gathering a load of introverts in one room and getting them involved, getting them on stage and – most importantly – getting them dancing.
I’m pigeonholing B&S fans here, for effect. But putting awkward types into a room which actively discourages standing up and moving (not to mention the frowning security guards) and working really flipping hard to make them dance? It couldn’t help but feel like an outreach programme.
The clichéd jaunts into the crowd became something different. Not sweaty union or challenge, letting everyone touch their hero. Instead, a friendly hand on the shoulder, pushing the boundaries of our polite comfort zones just a little.
Marking this out as our space, as the self-monikered ‘Uncle Stuart’ told us it was. And the more human they were, the more Stuart forgot lines or they fluffed between-song banter, the more it felt like a coming together, a celebration of shared awkwardness.
Unlike the two boys in the orchestra who stood up to do an impromptu dance to the last couple of songs, I’m ashamed to say I didn’t get involved: I didn’t dance. Honestly, I really meant to. I was just waiting for that perfect last song, which never came. Of course it didn’t. After all, it was just a gig.
Alex Spencer is a pop-cultural omnivore. He is
also a culinary omnivore, but has never eaten
a pig’s heart. He hopes this doesn’t make him a
coward or hypocrite, but suspects it might. He lives
inside his head, with three dogs, and a Pikachu.