Belle and Sebastian | 3.10.06

Murdoch’s impish sense of humor was the star of the show, from bringing a young lady onstage to be his dancing partner for one song to needing one of the burlier security guards to hold him aloft as he attempted to lean over the barricade to hover over his fans.

See photos from the concert in Photo Gallery 

with The New Pornographers
Riviera Theater,
Chicago

The first time we get a glimpse of Championship Vinyl, the stereotypical record store featured in the ultimate music nerd movie High Fidelity, we see shop owner Rob and his coworker Dick having a lazy Monday morning, listing through the racks to the strain of Belle and Sebastian’s “Seymour Stein.” The firebrand Barry (the inimitable Jack Black) bursts through the door and declares the band to be “old sad bastard music.”

Apparently, no one told the packed-in crowd at Belle and Sebastian’s sold-out show at the Riviera Theater to be in “old sad bastard” mode. Rarely do shows crackle with this much palpable energy before the band even sets foot onstage, but that’s par for the course for this particular Scottish band and their infamously rabid fan base.

Frontman Stuart Murdoch knew he had the crowd in the palm of his hand, and he took full advantage. Stripping down to a plain white T-shirt after the band’s first song to a chorus of cat calls, Murdoch led his band through an upbeat, ebullient set packed almost entirely with songs from the band’s brand new LP, The Life Pursuit—the most rocking material in the band’s catalog, and about as far from the “old sad bastard music” tag as music gets.

Murdoch’s impish sense of humor was the star of the show, from bringing a young lady onstage to be his dancing partner for one song to needing one of the burlier security guards to hold him aloft as he attempted to lean over the barricade to hover over his fans. During a run through the acoustic folk song “Piazza, New York Catcher,” Murdoch clutched a lyric sheet and, upon reaching the sole lyric he didn’t have memorized, took an exaggerated look at the page in his hands, a move which was met, like most of his shenanigans, with uproarious laughter from the crowd. Even when Murdoch shared the spotlight he still drew attention, such as during Stevie Jackson’s turn on vocals for “To Be Myself Completely,” which saw Murdoch skipping across the stage playing a tambourine. One of the most effective and magical moments came when Murdoch invited a particularly ecstatic fan onto the stage to join for a duet. The ensuing run through of “Lazy Line Painter Jane” was nothing short of amazing, with the female fan’s powerful vocals every bit as effective as Monica Queen’s on the original.

After opening the encore with the glammed-out “White Collar Boy” (another Life Pursuit track), Murdoch then asked for requests. One fan asked for Murdoch’s favorite dinosaur (his was the Brachiosaurus, Jackson’s the Tyrannosaurus Rex) before taking a request for the next song. The band’s run through “Get Me Away From Here, I’m Dying” (the lone track from the band’s breakthrough 1996 LP If You’re Feeling Sinister) was great but seemed out of place, the song’s rollicking pace unable to keep up with the newer material. Still, from start to finish, Murdoch’s irrepressible personality and his tight, able backing band (nine people strong) were impossible to ignore.

Oddly, one would assume that Canadian power-poppers the New Pornographers would be equally impossible to ignore, but the crowd managed to do just that. The band put on a strong performance, especially on the final one-two punch of “The Slow Descent Into Alcoholism” and “Sing Me Spanish Techno,” but with ace-in-the-hole Neko Case off promoting her new solo album and a crowd too anxious for the main attraction, the audience reaction was lukewarm, hardly a fate befitting such a good band.

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