Show Review (Nokia Theater, New York City)

    Belle & Sebastian has this habit of booking itself into the more grandiose of New York venues. Case in point: The band’s big coming-out party in ’99, on the heels of The Boy with the Arab Strap, took place at the Supper Club, a turgid art-deco nightmare in the theater district. Creeping out onto stage with their violins and trumpets, the eight members of the band nebbishly crooned to the bespectacled mass of hipsters and quietly walked off stage. That oft-bootlegged performance stands in stark contrast to their appearance at Times Square’s brand freakin’ new Nokia Theater, where their exuberant and playful set felt oddly at home in the Vegas-like room — one so complete with neon lighting, chandeliers and chrome that I expected craps tables beyond the back doors.

     

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    Openers New Pornographers took the stage missing two of their band mates, namely Neko Case and Dan Bejar, who are, for all intents and purposes, two-thirds of the band’s vocal front. Carl Newman kept selections from the Case/Bejar songbook to a minimum, and his charming niece Katherine Calder picked up the slack nicely, but no Neko is no Neko. And there’s a marked lack of flair to these aging Canadian boys’ presence. Fortunately, their stiff demeanor is in indirect proportion to their songwriting prowess, and they hit every ecstatic riff perfectly, prompting their eager fans to bob their heads accordingly, folding their arms and saying yeah.

     

    Having earlier planted a suggestion of a Billy Joel cover between songs, the evening’s true oddity came when Newman introduced his heroes — a little-known German one-song cover band simply called Matter of Trust, who they’d invited to play in between the night’s sets. The gag, of course, is that this is a bunch of the Pornographers comedian friends donning roadie gear, the singer being Jon Benjamin, who did the voice of Ben on the short-lived squiggle-animated show Dr. Katz. And apparently the bassist was James McNew of Yo La Tengo. The bewildered audience members nodded along as the joke went over their heads, smiling because, frankly, Matter of Trust kind of rules. 

     

    Now that Stuart Murdoch has fully emerged from his shell — the band even did actual press for its new album, The Life Pursuit — Belle & Sebastian’s current live show parallels the bouncy tone of its latest records. His giddy dancing and guitar-keyboard-guitar instrument switcheroos eventually gave way to near-rowdiness — Murdoch even stage dove during the guitar breakdown of “Your Cover’s Blown.”

     

    Further tricks up the band’s sleeve throughout the eclectic set included a well-pulled-off reinvention of Tigermilk‘s “Electronic Renaissance” — a track Belle & Sebastian hasn’t really performed live — and Murdoch quenched his tour-induced boredom by inviting six skirted females to can-can with him to “If You Find Yourself Caught in Love.” Sexy. Though these lengthy between-song antics can grow tiresome, there’s an urbane thrill in seeing these charmers flip their personas into the rock stars they always wanted to be. 

     

    Belle & Sebastian’s set list:

    The Stars of Track & Field 

    Another Sunny Day 

    Funny Little Frog 

    A Century of Fakers 

    Sukie in the Graveyard 

    Electronic Renaissance 

    The Loneliness of a Middle Distance Runner  

    To Be Myself Completely 

    Dress Up in You 

    Fox in the Snow 

    White-Collar Boy 

    Mayfly 

    Your Cover’s Blown 

    Dog on Wheels 

    I’m a Cuckoo 

    Jonathan David 

    If You Find Yourself Caught in Love 

    The State I Am In 

    Judy and the Dream of Horses 

    Me and the Major

     

    The New Pornographers’ set list:

    Twin Cinema

    Use It

    The Laws Have Changed 

    July Jones 

    The Bleeding Heart Show 

    Stacked Crooked 

    Mass Romantic 

    Execution Day 

    The Fake Headlines 

    The Jessica Numbers 

    The Bones of an Idol 

    From Blown Speakers 

    It’s Only Divine Right 

    Slow Descent Into Alcoholism 

    Sing Me Spanish Techno

     

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    Belle & Sebastian Web site

    The New Pornographers Web site