By a curious sequence of serendipities—being sent to a conference I'd had no plans to attend, overhearing a stranger's conversation about his evening plans, and arriving at the ticket window just after a number of reserved seats went back on sale—last Thursday evening I found myself smack in the middle of Row F of the Brown Theatre in Louisville for the New Pornographers/Belle & Sebastian show. I was, in a word, well chuffed.
The New Pornographers set was good but no revelation. They may have been hampered by the venue (the Brown is a theater, and everyone stayed seated for their set. Does it say something about the audience for indie rock in Kentucky that this is the second time I've gone to a show located in a hall typically used for orchestras and dramatic productions?) or the fact that half the seats were still empty, but they seemed a bit low-energy. Mostly they reinforced my previous assessment that they are the second coming of Game Theory. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but I guess I was hoping to be a bit more impressed.
Belle & Sebastian on the other hand were stunning. They opened with an absolutely kick-ass rendition of 'The Stars of Track and Field', closed their set with a rousing 'Judy and the Dream of Horses,' and capped the encore with 'Me and the Major' (had they completed the superfecta by playing 'If You're Feeling Sinister', I might have passed out from sheer joy). In between these old favorites was a fair amount of material I didn't know (so I assume it is from the new album), but all of it more or less delightful. They even managed to make one of my least favorite B&S songs, 'Fox in the Snow', sound good.* If B&S have a flaw on their recordings, it's that the whole fey vocals and delicate melodies thing teeters on the edge of moaning wimpiness. Live, though, they nicely mixed energetic rockers with soft ballads to create an atmosphere that was at once rich, dreamy and heartbreaking, In this, I was reminded of a Chills show I saw long ago. The Chills are another band whose records rode the edge between quiet and pathetic, while in concert they meshed into a wall of sound that blew such concerns away.
Anyway, good opener plus terrific headliner equals great show in my book. The fact that it provided an alternative to an evening of hotel cable TV, made it nearly perfect.
(*Despite the fact that I've only mentioned songs from If You're Feeling Sinister, I do in fact own and enjoy other B&S albums. In fact, after buying the Press Barman... compilation at the show and downloading The Life Pursuit from eMusic yesterday, I should be in possession of their complete discography.)