Belle & Sebastian
Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Los Angeles
October 8, 2010
On an odd rainy night in downtown Hollywood, weather befit more for their homeland than ours, Belle and Sebastian, Glaswegian art school rockers of yore, played to a sold out crowd of mostly thirty-somethings, brave enough to stand outside… in not just any ordinary venue. Instead, they stylishly bowed and plucked their instruments amongst the mausoleums and graves of some of Los Angeles’ elite: two of the Ramones, Rudolph Valentino, and where George Harrison was cremated. Adding to the macabre setting was the screening of Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting that preceded the show. Taking the stage, B&S lead singer Stuart Murdoch asked “Did you see me? I was in the bar scene!” alluding to some extra work he did those 15 years ago.
They were revving up to the eventual mid-October release of Belle & Sebastian Write about Love, the group’s first foray into full-length recording in five years. To remind us of that 15 years is not insignificant as it shows the longevity of a band who started off sloppily and with lyrics befitting their youth. It’s quite the opposite now — Write about Love is tight and talks of their protagonists feeling trapped in their jobs. Sorry, guys, no matter how spry you look up there on stage, no matter how many early twenties girls you draft to dance interspersed among instrumentalists, you’re there — at the dreaded middle aged. To quote Renton, you “chose life” and this is, in fact, your career.
Write about Love couldn’t be by anyone other than by Murdoch’s hand. If anything, its predictability is comforting. There are no really significant missteps (even guest vocals by current indie film ingenue Carey Mulligan can’t really be faulted if other than moderately extraneous) but then again, it seems slim, uncontroversial, slightly on the bland side. Only the first single (the title track) and “I Want the World to Stop” sound like vintage, cute B&S. In thinking of favorite songs to heckle at a concert, whole handfuls of tunes from If You’re Feeling Sinister and The Boy with the Arab Strap could easily come to mind but none such exist here. The latter half of the album is slow, without declaring a ballad one might expect from the title. It’s easy to recognize Norah Jones’s vocals on two tracks here (“Come on Sister” and “Little Lou, Ugly Jack, Prophet John”) but they’re easy to shrug off, especially when you take into consideration the arcade-like keyboard on “Come on Sister”.
Regardless of the album, the performance in the graveyard was cheeky and wonderful. They started off with the apropos “Sukie in the Graveyard” and then emerged for a boisterous encore of “Get Me Away from Here, I’m Dying.” Even “Dylan in the Movies” seemed to compliment the theatricality of the night. Other choice tunes from the night included “Funny Little Frog” off of Murdoch’s side project God Help the Girl, “If You’re Feeling Sinister”, “We Rule the School”, “Dog on Wheels”, “The State I Am In” and “Sleep the Clock Around.” Dozens of aforementioned girls rose to the stage for an extended “The Boy with the Arab Strap” and you couldn’t help but notice that all of the thirty-somethings themselves, who no doubt got babysitters for their hip kids for the evening, were bopping and dancing around their picnic tarps, reliving a time when things seemed easier and choices seemed clearer.