Gig Review : Belle and Sebastian – Leeds Town Hall

Last night my wife and I finally went to our first gig together since February 2014, a few months before our daughter was born (after a failed attempt to see The Decemberists back in February). As I’ve mentioned before, we first met at a music festival, and many of our favourite memories are from that weekend, and other shows we have attended together in Brighton, London, Manchester and Leeds. We knew that when the baby arrived attendance would become less frequent, but I don’t think I ever imagined there would be a gap of 15 months.

We’d booked tickets to see Belle and Sebastian 6 months back, so long ago in fact that we realised a few days before that we had entirely forgotten to arrange a babysitter. Fortunately a good friend of our stepped in at short notice and off we went to Leeds Town Hall, a building whose splendour is not really captured in the dark blurry photo below (I’m not much of a concert photographer as it turns out, especially from the back of the balcony in a dark, crowded venue, with a poor quality cameraphone)

A magnificent, if badly captures, Leeds Town Hall
A magnificent, if badly captured, Leeds Town Hall

It was wonderful being there watching live music with my wife again, hand in hand and side by side, as we are meant to be. I tried hard not to check my phone every five minutes for a call from home. Our daughter tends not to wake up during the evenings nowadays, but she had been teething and quite grumpy recently, so I was a little concerned. I mainly managed to keep my mind on the music and the show though.

So what was the gig itself like? Well, kind of chaotic. Belle and Sebastian, despite their longevity and success, have never developed a particularly slick and professional live show, but it certainly isn’t dull. For a start there were at least 14 of them on stage. You can hopefully get some idea of how crowded the stage was from my picture below, although this is admittedly just after the (approved) stage invasion began. There were quite a lot of pauses and slightly forced banter. And what band doesn’t play the hit single from their latest album? The setlist seemed to be genuinely at least semi-improvised (I saw one of the keyboard players perform a horse mime to the string section to suggest Judy and the Dream of Horses would be the next song).

The stage invasion begins
The stage invasion begins

Musically it was surprisingly varied. In my piece earlier this week I implied there was some truth to the accusation that a lot of their songs sound very similar, but this show totally proved me wrong. We had electro-pop, we had acoustic ballads, we had a very odd semi-psychedelic number from the new album. I’m most familiar with the earliest albums, so was a tiny bit disappointed that the selection was slanted towards the new album, but then the new songs are a bit livelier and work well live, so can’t really complain. And I got ‘The State that I am in’, ‘The Boy with the Arab Strap’ and ‘Piazza, New York Catcher’, all of which are among my favourite songs of theirs.

As the night drew on, I stopped worrying about whether they would perform the songs I liked the most and just enjoyed it, immersed myself in the music and the atmosphere of a crowded Town Hall. The finale of ‘Judy and the Dream of Horses’ was one of those spine-tingling moments which remind me why I love live music so much. So we taxied home, after almost a two hour set, tired and happy and looking forward to many more gigs in our future. And our daughter hadn’t caused a single disturbance. Of course, as soon as we tried to go to bed, the teething and crying began again, but that is another story.


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