live review

ALEX’s Best Of 2010: Belle & Sebastian, Live

[You have selected: Alex Spencer] Birmingham Town Hall Symphony Hall, 6/12/10 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. About the author: Alex Spencer is a pop-cultural omnivore. He isalso a culinary omnivore, but has never eatena pig’s heart. He hopes this doesn’t make him acoward or hypocrite, but suspects it might. He livesinside his head, with three dogs, and a Pikachu.

Redbrick Pt II (La Roux, Patrick Wolf) : Print Still Ain’t Dead.

More of my dangerously intimate involvement in the end-of-year issue of Redbrick.Reviews of Patrick Wolf and La Roux gigs. Click for the much-prettier PDF (also here for my official introduction and mourning of my predecessor, written by my fine and above-all-professional colleague Ms. Erica Vernon) or read on for blog-format, with bonus behind-the-scenes confessions. It’s an androgyny special! First up, most famous hairstyle in the Western World, surprising-chart-success, Ms Ellie Jackson and La Roux:“Coming on to stage to alternating chants of ‘La Roux, La Roux is on fire’ and ‘Get your bum out’; it’s almost immediately a case of audience versus band.Singer Elly Jackson, who has pretty much taken on (for tonight, at least) the mantle of La Roux herself, timidly tries to play down the attention. The tunes take a while warming up and for a while the atmosphere struggles.But soon, with the dance-to-me lights and kickin’ bass there to back her up, the crowd obey the command to get their groove on.The gig is a showcase for unheard songs from the forthcoming album, an assurance there’s some range and depth still to be seen. By the time they finally play the hit single In For The Kill, any awkwardness is gone and everyone is dancing.Elly’s even got the balls to not make it the last song. That honour goes to the new single, Bulletproof, which proves to be the song of the night, even though I’d never heard it before. It’s the song everyone goes out, satisfied, into the cold night air humming.” And the picture-of-Dorian-Gray, costume-stylin’ Romantic spaceboy from London himself, Mssr. Patrick Wolf!“Live, you realise how much of an unabashed pop bitch Patrick Wolf is. Coming on hollering ‘Birminghaaam’ into a Britney-esque head mic, he jumps straight into the crowd, interacts, making the most of his wirelessness.Dressed up like a manga character and backed up by an army of synths, it’s clear, live, just how much Patrick Wolf is David Bowie’s love child by some beautiful alien man-woman, now sent to earth to follow in his fathere’s footsteps and save us all.Patrick Wolf is obviously a fully-fledged rock star. Shouting, working the crowd, the whole band jumping up and down during Accident & Emergency.He’s a self-deprecating, confessional acoustic singer-songwriter (the least interesting personal- the most real, most human.) It’s this that struggles to carry him through a couple of slower songs in an otherwise perfectly paced gig.Somehow, live, the songs lack some of the transcedence of the records. But that’s all traded in for Wolf’s showmanship. That unavoidable throughline, his unmistakeable voice is hidden somewhat by the endless variety of songs, clothes, personas on show. The climax of the gig began to reconcile all these fragments, and you can see a charmingly vulnerable boy, at his happiest. Live, Patrick Wolf is everything.” Confession: Most of this was written whilst being bullied by the aforementioned oh-so-professional Ms Vernon. She’s a tickler, that one.