The Independent – London, Islington Union Chapel, 31st July 1997
08th August 1997
Live Review

The septet of Belle and Sebastian perform fragile songs about the shy and the heartbroken, led by Stuart Murdoch’s waiving voice, which is like Nick Drake’s angel sigh but eschews suicidal poetry in favour of a mixture of wit and urban surrealism, all wrapped in string and brass arrangements.
But this isn’t the sound of the crushig eimages of the Manic Street Preachers or the wall-of-sound pop of Phil Spector, it’s the ramshackle chic of street urchins, stumbling onto instruments and delighting in the sweet racket they make. And it’s a fantastic brew; because while they exude the air of lucky amateurs it’s a concoction only the stony-hearted could resist.

They make a fist of the first song, pushing their lackadaisical habits to the brink of disaster, but they recover and stumble brilliantly from one breathless song to the next. During one particularly lengthy tune-up, the guitarist calls for request and performs an impromptu solo version of Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone”, but even this is brilliant, with Dylan’s original vitriol replaced with head-shaking regret.

At one point, as everyone is enjoying the spectacle of Belle and Sebastian in a church, a lone, crazed dancer suddenly and without reason starts flailing around like he’s at a techno club and we all shuffle with embarassment. Because that’s how fans of Belle and Sebastian suffer life, with shuffling embarassment, stolen looks, long lonely sighs and scribbled poetry. The audience look as if they’ve been hibernating since the Smiths split up a decade ago and there’s even – horror of horrors – grown men in T-shirts and cardigan ensembles again. For one glorious night, the arrogant anthemic indie bands are thankfully a world away as people in a chapel in Islington gleefully worship at the alter of shyness and coyness. Amen

Anthony Thornton

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