Last Tuesday night at the Paramount Theater in Seattle, WA, Belle & Sebastian proved that they’re just as relevant now as they were in the ’90s. After 20 years and 9 albums, they still rock classics like “I’m a Cuckoo” and “The Boy With The Arab Strap” like they were released yesterday. The latter came at the end of a set perfectly balancing their old tracks with new dance numbers from this year’s Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance. The band celebrated by bringing about 30 fans on stage with them, and the party continued into the next song (“Legal Man”). Frontman Stuart Murdoch was having a blast, laughing and joking with the crowd and climbing up on the piano he’d been playing all night to dance and play guitar.
The joy of the evening was felt at the very first note of new song “Nobody’s Empire.” It’s an upbeat, seamless blend of the thoughtful, bright lyrics of the older songs and the toe-tapping tempo of the new tracks. Images blared behind the 12-piece band, flashing notable moments from history in black and white. Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother stared out across the crowd, and moments later, survivors picked through the rubble of the Second World War. The montage was brilliantly emotional, and the gradual build of the song brought the crowd together, enthralled. Once they’d piqued the audience’s interest, the band segued effortlessly to crowd favorite “I’m a Cuckoo,” from 2003’s Dear Catastrophe Waitress. By the time they busted out new dance track “The Party Line,” the night’s euphoric groove was cemented.
Fans were overjoyed to hear the band start up “Electronic Renaissance,” a gorgeous five minute blast of keyboards and a drumbeat that won’t quit. Crowd members from the front row to the very last row of the second balcony were dancing and getting wild. The Paramount’s monolithic screen flashed colors and patterns, sending the crowd on a drug trip midway through a set that most would have assumed would be light, folksy indie music. Belle & Sebastian challenge their boundaries, and as Murdoch raised a melodica to his lips, he laughed, “…because an indie band must move with the times, obviously.” The irony was that the song was from their very first album Tigermilk from 1996. When they launched into this year’s track “I Didn’t See It Coming” directly afterward, Murdoch remarked, “We just jumped 20 years like that,” snapping his fingers. During the song’s chorus, Murdoch’s counterpart Sarah Martin sings playfully, “Make me dance, I want to surrender.” It was a sentiment felt by every heart in the Paramount, and by the end of the night, not a soul was still.
Opener Perfume Genius, a.k.a. Mike Hadreas, hails from Everett, Washington, and has been stirring things up with his recent singles “Grid,” and “Queen.” Each song features wild videos with colorful, performative displays, along with an intensely layered electronic sound. He pranced onto the stage in a very tasteful black tunic, fishnets, and oxford-style heels, accented with bright red lipstick and nails. He walked back and forth, working the crowd effortlessly, crooning into the mic as his three-piece band kept the rhythm going.
After a few upbeat songs, he settled into his piano for a more serious tone. His first two albums Learning and Put Your Back N 2 It were heavily piano based and quieter, displaying his skills as a songwriter. “Dark Parts” features double tracked vocals and piano, a comforting sound reminiscent of Bright Eyes or Antony and the Johnsons. The video features Hadreas at home with his mom and dogs, dancing around a campfire with family members, and eventually on a walk through a moonlit forest with his mother. They climb a tree in the dark and he cradles her, as he sings, “I will take the dark parts of your heart into my heart.” When these beautiful words are combined with Hadreas’s fantastic stage presence, it makes for a powerful performance.
“Fool” from this year’s Too Bright starts up with a confident strut, an ’80s landscape of reverberant keyboards and a laid-back beat. Hadreas’s vocals seems distant and disinterested. Suddenly there is an interlude, an organ starts to brew, and his quiet murmurs grow into louder and louder warbles, building to form a single, piercing wail. The crowd at the Paramount was taken aback, screaming in surprise at his killer pipes. The set had been wonderful thus far, but “Fool” was the turning point, and each of the remaining songs showcased Hadreas’s true talent. After a fiery cover of Mary Margaret O’Hara’s “Body’s in Trouble,” Hadreas ended the set with the aforementioned singles “Grid,” and “Queen.” His shrill screams and pitch-perfect delivery destroyed what skepticism may have remained in the crowd.
Belle & Sebastian:
I’m a Cuckoo
The Party Line
Le Pastie de la Bourgeoisie
Piazza, New York Catcher
My Wandering Days Are Over
The Power of Three
I Didn’t See It Coming
A Summer Wasted
The Boy With the Arab Strap
– ENCORE –
Sleep The Clock Around/The State I Am In
Perfume Genius (Opener):
Body’s in Trouble (Mary Margaret O’Hara Cover)