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Electric Renaissance: Belle & Sebastian At The Chicago Theatre

By Kim Bellware in Arts & Entertainment on Oct 13, 2010 5:20PM

Photo by Jed Sullivan
Who would have guessed: Stuart Murdoch has a pretty good throwing arm. Along with his Belle & Sebastian band mates, Murdoch—the chief architect behind the group’s brilliant twee-pop/“sad bastard” music—wowed a full-house at the Chicago Theatre Monday night. The 90 minute set had a bit of everything, including fans dancing on stage, an impromptu makeup application and Murdoch pitching Nerf footballs into the crowd (for the record, Stu’s first lob landed in the upper balcony).

A day before their latest release, Write About Love, dropped, the Glasgow group powered through the majority of their discography, lingering particularly long on 2003’s Dear Catastrophe Waitress (but eschewing our personal favorite, Tigermilk). In a venue where a show's intimacy can get lost in the expanse, Belle & Sebastian were funny and warm, putting on what would be better described as a variety show than a concert.

Starting off with "I Didn't See It Coming," the band relied on their strings section as much as they did their signature mix of gentle strumming and driving guitar. After a quick handful of slightly older numbers, "She's Losing It" and "Step Into My Office, Baby," Murdoch took some time to jab the band's music, and in much cruder terms, promising the rest of the show would be "climactic" unlike the first few songs.

It was an interesting observation from Murdoch (who also mused about the realness of Chicago versus New York, our "second city" status and The Bean) since very little of Belle & Sebastian's music would be considered in any way explosive; they aren't an arena band that will make sharp departures from their established sound, let alone have an overwhelming finale. Instead, the spark was ignited by the smaller ranges of change ups, with the group's rhythm moving strongly and steadily. If at any point the show felt slow, it was because of the contrast with Murdoch and company's much faster-paced personality. For a group that could play "The Stars of Track and Field," "Boy With The Arab Strap" and the excellent finale, "Sleep The Clock Around" with such cool and steady control, they possessed a surprising amount of giddiness.

It was an easy pleasure to see a band so obviously delighting in its fans, and the appreciation was returned with a standing ovation from the crowd. After a two-song encore, the band left the stage, and the audience left buzzing with the same level of energy that Belle & Sebastian had just exuded on stage.