Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Belle & Sebastian, Zeus @ Massey Hall, Toronto (October 12, 2010)

  Stuart Murdoch of Belle & Sebastian: photo by Michael Ligon

Update [Oct 14/2010, 1:02 AM]: Review now up.

Counting yesterday evening at Massey Hall, I've now seen live Glasgow's Belle & Sebastian five times - Kool Haus in 2002, the Coachella festival in 2004 plus a sidetrip that same week to San Diego to see them at the spectacular Spreckels Theatre, and lastly in Toronto at Sound Academy in February 2006. The previous(and only?) time that the group played the wonderful Massey Hall in Toronto was in 2004 but having already seen the group twice that year I decided to bypass the Toronto stop later that year. An err in judgement that was because had I known it would have been another six years before they'd play Massey Hall, I'd have gone to their Massey Hall show in 2004. And so to draw an analogy about airplane travel and the difference of seeing Belle & Sebastian perform in Massey Hall as opposed to the god-awful Sound Academy which they played back in 2006, it was like the difference between travelling first class and economy. The comfort of seeing B & S perform in Massey Hall where just about every seat is a good seat(especially might just off centre, ROW G seat!) was infinitessimally better than the crowded, cramped, uncomfortable, shitty sight-lines experience of seeing them perform at Sound Academy. Comforts aside, this most recent show was the best yet performance-wise.

Opening the show was Toronto's very own Zeus. They expressed their pride for playing the renowned venue as do most band's of their relative obscurity do. I'd somehow never got around to seeing them live, not that there were not a multitude of opportunites so if there had to be a first time to see them, why not Massey Hall? With drums, guitar, bass and electric piano in the mix the four-piece's 70's classic rock influences are definitely apparently, but they also add generous amounts of pop melodies and vocal harmonies. Instrumentally, they performed loose and ragged, especially in the guitar arrangements, and while I've always associated 70's classic rock with not much emphasis in the drumming and usually boring, drummer Rob Baker's playing was punchy and interesting. Keeping things democratic, members Neil Quin, Mike O'brien and Carlin Nicholson all took swipes at lead vocals and switching between guitar and keyboards. The band played a new song that had sort of a 50's doowop melody that fared well with the audience, although prior to the song a lone audience member vocalized their appreciation, before bassist Carlin Nicholson humourously responded it was a new song. The opening slot any time one plays Massey Hall is always a difficult slot to fill as most people are primarily there for the headliners but spending time with Zeus wasn't a shabby experience at all.

As I'd imagined I knew there would be a rush of people towards the front of the stage, but in actuality it was more of a polite and gradual "rush". The politeness has perhaps to do with being Canadian or that's just the trait of Belle & Sebastian fans, but the 'rush' to the front of the stage first started out with only a couple of front-row fans dancing, then a group of young girls congregated off to the left side of the stage, and then after that pockets of individuals seemed to gravitate towards the front. Still there were a good number of people still sitting, myself included, and that was fine. The band's new album Write About Love was released in Canada that very day [I myself snapping up a copy of the vinyl at the merch table just prior to the sho]), and of course the band played several cuts from the album, consigning most of those tracks I believe to the first part of the show. Those are still sinking in, but I did enjoy the track that guitarist Stevie Jackson had the audience participate and sing / "ooh" back-up on. Now that I have the album, I will have to thrown it on to the turntable and give it a listen.

But it's the classic cuts that I think most people wanted to hear. With a 4-member string section in tow, the band performing tracks spanning many of their albums including faves like "Dylan In The Movies", "I'm A Cuckoo" [during which if I recall correctly was when vocalist Stuart Murdoch pulled up a female fan onstage to dance with], my personal favourite "The Boy With An Arab Strap" [during which the band had even more fan participants onstage including the most adorable pigtailed young red-headed girl you ever saw, after which Murdoch gave each an Olympic-style medal], and "Sukie In The Grave Yard". There were also sublime versions of deep album cuts like Dear Catastrophe Waitress's "Piazza, New york Catcher" and one of my faves of the night, an achingly beautiful "Lord Anthony". We also got a cool rendition of the Stevie-sung 2004 b-side "I Believe In Travellin' Light". The main set ended climatically with "Sleep Around The Clock".

Murdoch was in fine form providing humourous banter throughout the evening with Stevie chiming in occasionally. At one point, Murdoch asked if anyone in the audience had been having a bad day prior to the show and one guy chimed in. Murdoch asked the guy if there was anything the band could play, and presumably he'd asked for The Kinks' "You Really Got Me" so after Stevie worked out the chords the band leapt into a totally off-the-cuff rendition of the song, only getting about a minute of two into the song before calling it quits. In any case, it was deeply appreciated by the fans.

A sublime version of "Judy and The Dream of Horses" started off the encore before ending on fan favourite "Me and The Major". With the band's now-deep catalogue of songs, there could have been any number of setlist choices, and part of me is a little disappointed in not getting to hear tracks like "The State I'm In", "Fox In The Snow" and "If You Find Yourself Caught In Love", but the setlist WE DID GET, was deeply satisfying. The pacing of the show picked up as the show progressed with Stuart increasingly in dance mode. I could have gone another hour if the band had the luxury but of course all good things must come to and end. With the last album and tour being around the time of 2006's The Life Pursuit it's felt way too long for the band to be away, but I like many others are so glad they are back.

For more reviews of the show check out The Panic Manual, Exclaim, chartattack, The Globe and Mail, NOW, and Eye Weekly. Update: Chromewaves has a stellar review and photos.

Photos: Belle & Sebastian, Zeus @ Massey Hall, Toronto (October 12, 2010)
MySpace: Zeus
MySpace: Belle & Sebastian

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