Review by Beth Walsh
Belle and Sebastian have been busy. Their new album The Party Line has been announced for release in January, its artwork and tracklist revealed shortly after. They’ve extended their current tour, with another date in Manchester’s Albert Hall as well as an appearance at Liverpool Sound City proving to be exciting additions for the North-West. Tuesday was a particularly good day for their Mancunian fans; not only did they have fresh title track The Party Line to wrap their ears around after airing on BBC Radio 6 earlier in the day, but also a sell-out show at the Cathedral to look forward to in the evening.
People eagerly arrived in droves, gradually filling the venue to its peak capacity, and with no more than a DJ set to precede the main event, the busy crowd became restless with anticipation. The band finally took to the stage in a haze of stage smoke, welcomed by rapturous applause and cheers. Set opener ‘Enter Sylvia Plath’ is a playful 80s disco inspired number, with frontman Stuart Murdoch donning a keytar for the duration. It is a slight shift from their usual indie-pop sound, but nothing that would throw the crowd off balance as they bopped along with seeming familiarity.
The set was a pick-n-mix of the band’s extensive back catalogue, but of course not everybody’s favourites could be played within the time allowed and some scattered shouts of specific requests were made in vain. Some trademark tracks were left out to make way for new material and songs from the albums Write About Love and The Life Pursuit were left out entirely. ‘If You’re Feeling Sinister’ was a highlight; listening to Murdoch sing: `But if you are feeling sinister, Go off and see a minister, Chances are you’ll probably feel better, If you stayed at home and played with yourself’ pertained to lighthearted sacrilege given the surroundings.
Murdoch kept a smile on everyone’s face with anecdotes and jokes in between songs. Taking the crowd down memory lane at one point, he reminisced about the band’s first gig in Manchester way back when in 1997, with cheers from the veteran fans acknowledging their attendance. That those fans remain, along with the younger generation, is a testament to Belle and Sebastian’s wide appeal. Crowd interaction reached its peak when members of the audience were hoisted onstage during ‘The Boy with the Arab Strap’ to join in the revelry. ‘Legal Man’ and ‘Sleep the Clock Around’ follow before their final departure, returning shortly after to play ‘Me and the Major’ as an encore.
Whilst the performance was visually strong, including a projected backdrop of retro imagery, video and past album covers as well as the band members and menagerie of instruments busying the stage, the acoustics of the Cathedral impaired the sound quite drastically. The quintessentially rich and almost orchestral nature of Belle and Sebastian’s sound was lost in the building’s intimidating expanse. At times this led to a rather muted atmosphere, but the band’s warmth and enthusiasm ensured that a good night was had by all.