This gig in a famous Frankfurt venue runs with such teutonic punctuality that we manage to miss Jane Weaver’s support slot. Instead, Belle & Sebastian greet us: “Guten abend meine damen und herren”. These girls (and boys) in peacetime want to dance, with hits from their critically lauded last album bookending tonight’s set. In between we journey through an extensive back catalogue which travels well and sees Batschkapp briefly turning Barras.
Nobody’s Empire rises up and sets the tone nicely for an eclectic repertoire thereafter. New tracks I’ll Be Your Pilot, The Same Star and We Were Beautiful from the How to Solve our Human Problems triumvirate of EPs, though melodic, seem to lack drive. Punchier staples of I’m a Cuckoo and The Boy with the Arab Strap press more buttons with this ‘fans only’ crowd, who prove familiar with tracks old and new.
While few would dispute Stuart’s Murdoch’s songwriting credentials, I have sometimes questioned the strength of his vocal and feel the performance improves when he passes the mic. On Little Lou, Ugly Jack, Prophet John, Sarah Martin mimics Norah Jones dulcet recordings and more than gets it right. The Wrong Girl sees Stevie Jackson take centre stage, his deadpan delivery perfectly suiting the cynical lyrics of both this and Perfect Couples. He and Bobby Kildea duetting detuned guitars on Stay Loose proves a highlight before the sitar swagger of Legal Man brings the curtain down in style.
Having apologised for taking “only 21 years” to visit Frankfurt, Murdoch then asks the locals to take advantage of this, their first chance of requests. Despite a local hollering for “JUDY UND ZE DREAM OF HORSES!” the band gifts us Get Me Away from Here, I’m Dying. Before we do, all finally jump to the beat of The Party Line, Murdoch leaping into the crowd and up the stairs at the back of the hall to exalt himself above the fire exit.
Though a great venue visually, tonight’s acoustics seemed slightly sub-optimal – perhaps the sound check was as rushed as the support act? A mid-set interlude for a slide show of snapshots taken by the band in the local area was a nice touch, but lost some momentum and, by Murdoch’s own admission, “they didn’t quite make it into town”. Otherwise, an impressive backdrop of footage was needlessly obscured by an distracting array of “Sunday school” disco lights. It being a Sunday evening after all, Murdoch acknowledged interrupting our “bath night”. Not lasting so long as for our toes to begin to wrinkle, the set left us wanting more – just as it should be.
Photo courtesy of Gaelle Beri.
For more on Belle & Sebastian’s tour click here.