Belle and Sebastian | 06.17.15

belle live_SQBelle and Sebastian played a strong mix of select classics curated for the setting, taking full advantage of the orchestra to fill out their sound.


Red Rocks Amphitheater, Morrison, Colo.


belle live_500

The goddess of love smiled down on Red Rocks Wednesday night and Stuart Murdoch of Belle and Sebastian was quick to take note. “What’s that star?” he said pointing up above the rocks. The audience, far more astronomically inclined than him, said “Venus.” Murdoch responded back—“Ah, goddess of love; how appropriate”—as the band broke into “Dirty Dream Number Two.” This is only the band’s second appearance in Denver in its 19-year career, and it fulfills a long-held desire to play Red Rocks along with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra.

Belle and Sebastian played a strong mix of select classics curated for the setting, taking full advantage of the orchestra to fill out their sound. New material from this year’s Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance was given focus and proved very stage-worthy. Show opener “Nobody’s Empire” came across in its full intensity as twilight descended and was, like many of the songs that night, accompanied by a large video screen flashing pictures and messages linked to the songs. Of the new songs, “Perfect Couples” featuring guitarist Stevie Jackson, proved to be a standout, with the band seeming more animated and enjoying the experience. Belle and Sebastian fans got a nice cross-section of the band’s catalog with some really heartfelt singing (and dancing) from Murdoch. As a unit, the band is impressive with several multi-instrumentalists shifting between instruments during the show.

And there was an orchestra there, though you’d be forgiven for sort of forgetting about them. It is pretty much a no-brainer for a band to want a symphony orchestra behind them when playing Red Rocks; any band is dwarfed by the immenseness of the place and its history. Belle and Sebastian is, at its best, a quiet band. The depth the Colorado Symphony added to such songs as “I Want the World to Stop” and “The Boy with the Arab Strap” (not your average symphony song) was certainly evident. Yet I felt that throughout the night they were simply used as a backup band. They were not really given any chance to shine—though nobody really gets to shine in the band (no raging guitar solos or flute flights). However, if you cart a few dozen very talented musicians up a mountain, you might want to let them give a sample of what they do best.

Another addition that was curious was a team of backup dancers who, according to Murdoch, were local. Throughout the night they acted out some of the songs and danced in synchronization very well, but to a point where they were probably a distraction. Don’t get me wrong. I like dancers with my shows as well as the next critic, but these were probably over-used for a band celebrated for crafting songs that tell stories. I have a suspicion that the planning for this concert was a bit haphazard. When Belle and Sebastian came out for an encore (certainly not unexpected), the symphony members didn’t know whether to stay or go until Murdoch told them, “Hey, if you want to stay and watch, that’s OK.”

The opener for the show was Charles Bradley and His Extraordinaires. Bradley is a soul singer who is as loud as Murdoch is quiet. His show combined a bit of James Brown stage techniques with the entire history of great belters from the ’60s. Bradley alone could have filled the stage, but had an impressive band and a brass section that would not stop until the audience was in submission. A little odd choice for an opener, but nonetheless a welcome find.

Despite the missed opportunities, Belle and Sebastian did shine like Venus during the show. The songs flowed and the crowd was obviously in love with them. One especially wonderful thing about Red Rocks: The seating allows plenty of space for dancing, and many in the crowd did. At the end, Murdoch seemed genuinely touched, saying to the crowd how beautiful it was to be “playing on a mountain with my beautiful new friends.” | Jim Dunn

About Jim Dunn 126 Articles
Jim Dunn grew up in NY in the 70s and 80s. Even though that time in music really shapes his appreciation it does not define it. Music, like his beloved history is a long intermingled path that grows, builds and steals from its past. He lives in Colorado with his lovely wife and a wild bunch of animals.

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