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Wednesday, December 13

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Review Tue Oct 12 2010

Review: Belle & Sebastian @ Chicago Theatre, 10/11

Four and a half years after their last visit to Chicago, Belle & Sebastian returned on the eve of their new album's release. Considering the long break, the fervent audience and the middling early reviews for Write About Love, the set was loaded with older songs. And that was just fine with everyone at the Chicago Theatre on Monday for a "sold out" show. (I'm using the quotation marks because it's what the marquee said, but there were dozens of people selling tickets outside and there were numerous empty patches in the seating.)

Even though 2002 and 2003 were pivotal years for Belle & Sebastian, due to the departure of a founding band member and the introduction of a slicker recording style, it's clear that the band has no regrets about the direction that those moves have resulted in. Where they were once reserved and revering of a lo-fi pop sound, they've embraced the clean and upbeat. "I'm a Cuckoo" and "Step Into My Office, Baby" from 2003's Dear Catastrophe Waitress were early reminders that what was once practically treason to die hard fans is now well-accepted. Both songs were received loudly, and played impeccably. (The strings added nice depth to a lot of songs.)

Belle & Sebastian's strength as a live band revolves around singer Stuart Murdoch. When he's on his game, their dynamic is hard to beat. They play loosely, have fun and everyone in the crowd knows it. But when he goes through the motions or loses interest outright, they lose a chunk of appeal. Luckily, those moments are short and far between. They only included some of the banter between songs (accounting for far too much dead time) and most of the audience participation. (If you're pulled on stage to dance, you'd better cut a mean rug. Don't just mug for 3,500+ people.) Otherwise, he was very engaging and respectfully patronizing of Chicago.

As with any band that's mastered set list construction, there came a point when it was obvious that the finale was under way. On Monday, the infectious and summery "There's Too Much Love" began it. From there they moved on to fan favorite "The Boy With the Arab Strap" that persuaded some folks even in the balcony to stand up and dance. But then a few technical issues arose as Murdoch's microphone cut out for half of "If You Find Yourself Caught In Love" and pianist Sarah Martin appeared to have trouble with the Wurlitzer organ. As professional musicians, they got around it for "Simple Things" and a knockout "Sleep the Clock Around." After a rapturous applause, they returned for an encore of "Judy and the Dream of Horses" and "Me and the Major." What's striking about Belle & Sebastian is that they seem to know precisely what their audience wants and they deliver it seemingly effortlessly. If you're going to make an event out of such rare appearances, you might as well excel at them. And that's exactly what they did on Monday.

 
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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

Read this feature »

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Transmission is the music section of Gapers Block. It aims to highlight Chicago music in its many varied forms, as well as cover touring acts performing in the city. More...
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