It has been 5 years since Belle & Sebastian last played in Manchester, tonight they return to make the inevitable transition from club to theatre.
The Manchester Apollo is tonight an all seated venue, a policy it normally reserves for comedic acts. In the past a Belle & Sebastian audience may have stood in silence ready to hush anyone who had the audacity to speak during a song but tonight the 30 and 40 something’s on the floor find themselves infiltrated by a new fan base of teenagers who want to dance and sing along. My seat of on the balcony, centre front, three rows back was the perfect position to fully appreciate the acoustics of the venue, the impressive light show and most of all the harmonious chemistry between Belle & Sebastian and the London Contemporary Orchestra.
The sound of Belle & Sebastian has developed over the years from the lo-fi delicate whisperings of debut album ‘Tigermilk’ to the lush, orchestral buoyancy of ‘Dear Catastrophe Waitress’ and current album ‘Write About Love’. The set list tonight included songs from throughout their discography, many were obviously chosen for their orchestral parts. ‘If You’re Feeling Sinister’ got proceedings underway and was followed by ‘Write About Love’, Dylan In The Movies’ and I’m Not Living In The Real World’.
Singer Stuart Murdoch’s voice was powerful, elegant and concise throughout; ‘Lord Anthony’, ‘The Fox In The Snow’ and ‘I Fought In A War’ saw him at his best. Lead guitarist Stevie Jackson took lead vocals for b-side ‘(I Believe In) Travellin’ Light’ and was an admirable alternative as he rejuvenated the audience.
As the evening progressed I found myself rather jealous of the lucky few in the front floor seats who Stuart Murdoch conducted into dance and then invited some on stage for ‘Dirty Dream Number Two’ and ‘The Boy With Arab Strap’ but once the orchestra erupted into full flow for ‘Sleep The Clock Around’ I was content to sit back and fully appreciate the performance from my lofted perch.
After briefly leaving the stage Belle & Sebastian returned for a three song encore of ‘I’m A Cuckoo, ‘Get Me Away From Here I’m Dying’ and ‘Me And The Major’, the last saw the London Contemporary Orchestra leave their seats behind the band to dance rather poorly at the front of the stage, it was reminiscent of a drunk wedding disco where all self-conscience is forgotten in the pursuit of happiness which everyone tonight looked to have found.