The long-running Scottish band were on peak form in Camden on Tuesday night
To those only vaguely familiar, Belle and Sebastian make music for anaemic, vegan, cardigan-wearing, poetry-writing, bedsit-dwelling students. To anyone at either of the band’s sold-out Roundhouse shows, they are merchants in exuberant joy. There would seem a million miles between Stuart Murdoch’s songs about bus journeys through rainy Glasgow and perpetual dancing and beaming smiles, but the band prove that both can co-exist in harmony.
It’s difficult to choose highlights, but suffice to say that the only way to improve the band’s already perfect albums would be to reissue them with Murdoch’s stage banter interspersed between the songs. His quick wit extends well beyond his lyrics; a monologue on youthful rebellion winds up with an admission that he quite likes golf, while asking Stevie Jackson if it would be “inappropriate” to dedicate a song to his “lovely wife” gets genuine guffaws.
For the final song, he wrong-foots the audience brilliantly, saying, “We thought we could end tonight with another sensitive song from one of our first three records”, which elicits a huge roar of approval, only for Murdoch to announce they decided against that, the band launching into a giddy rendition of ‘The Blues Are Still Blue’.
While Belle and Sebastian know all too well that a huge section of the crowd is primarily here for those first three albums, the setlist feels structured to deliver the goods while reminding them that there’s gold to be found throughout their entire catalogue. Murdoch knowingly refers to Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like A Peasant as their “maligned fourth album” before rehabilitating that reputation with the fantastic ‘Women’s Realm’.
There’s little crossover between last night’s set and tonight’s, which further highlights the ridiculous quantity of pop nuggets at the band’s disposal. A rare overlap comes with the ritual stage “invasion” for ‘The Boy With The Arab Strap’. The youthful countenance of those who rush up for a chance to dance with the band shows that Belle and Sebastian’s allure persists across generations. “Timeless” gets bandied around a lot but it’s entirely appropriate here.
An ecstatic ‘Sleep The Clock Around’ could have made for an ideal climax, but the band have even more up their sleeve. Following a few shouts for ‘Dress Up In You’, Murdoch, Jackson, Sarah Martin and Chris Geddes attempt a stripped-down, shortened version; the crowd and Martin help Murdoch find his way through the lyrics before it’s abandoned after the first chorus. ‘Judy And The Dream Of Horses’ elevates the mood even further before Murdoch takes to a scooter for the aforementioned ‘The Blues Are Still Blue’. Three thousand people leave feeling anything but.
Main image: Josh Turner