Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Live Review: Belle & Sebastian, Ironworks, Inverness, 01/07/2013

Imperfect. That's how I'd describe this show at The Ironworks; Belle & Sebastian's big comeback following an extended hiatus, and the first time they've ever graced an Inverness stage to boot. In all fairness, this was only to be expected. We are, after all, talking about a band who had not played a gig for more than two years, not to mention one who in their early days harboured a reputation for shoddy and frankly amateurish live offerings. Thankfully, the days of awkward insecurity and taking 10 minutes to tune between songs are long gone; replaced by a more assured, professional outfit who treated their audience - many of whom had traveled to the Scottish highlands from far and wide - to a satisfying, career-spanning performance which touched brilliance in spite of its obvious flaws.

Cast in an unlikely location, this one-off appearance was essentially the springboard for a much wider return, with headline slots at Pitchfork and End of the Road festivals among a string of upcoming summer dates. A 1000 capacity gig will hardly have been the biggest item on their calendar, but the seven-piece had nevertheless put in the hours rehearsing - even if they still have ground to make up in that department, judging by a handful of false starts and crowd participation mishaps. The setlist, needless to say, requires no such work, and although slightly short on personal favourites it's obvious this healthy mix of old and new was tailored to satisfy every corner of their following - the 17 songs stretching from "Le Pastie De Le Bourgeoisie," one of Stuart Murdoch's very earliest compositions to "I Didn't See It Coming," the sole representative from 2010's Write About Love.

Adittionally, the group also brought along an unexpected but most welcome string section, an accessory which together with hornist Robert Henderson saw the likes of '"I'm A Cuckoo" and "Dirty Dream Number Two" truly lift off. Murdoch, of course, remains the lynchpin, and despite guitarist Stevie Jackson sharing a similarly prominent role in their shows there's no doubt the frontman's ever developing confidence, vocal consistency and skill as an entertainer are the biggest factors behind his band's growing live reputation.

Having said that, I'll admit to feeling a little short changed when they left the stage after the main set. Fortunately, that disappointment was swiftly vanquished by a single glance at my watch, which revealed their 'brief stay' had in fact lasted an hour and a half. How time flies when you're having fun. There was more too, although in truth a slowed down "Get Me Away From Here I'm Dying" proved an ever so slightly flat and ponderous note to end on, especially since it followed exemplary runs through fellow early classics "The Boy with the Arab Strap" and "Judy and the Dream of Horses." But who am I kidding? All things considered, the band and their performance were well worth seven hours of travelling plus expenses, and if this was a rusty first step, the crowds at their subsequent shows are in for quite something.



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