Melody Maker – London, Islington Union Chapel, 31st July 1997
16th August 1997
Live Review

Going to the chapel and we’re gonna get… shafted. Belle And Sebastian are often mentioned in the same sentence as Tindersticks, so I’m keen to see them play in the house of God. This’ll be OK, I figure. The adjective “beautiful” has rarely been more than a few lines away in their adulatory press to date, and the new single “Lazy Line Painter Jane” is certainly an idioblastic thing of defiant organic grandeur.
I am not entirely insensitive -not yet- but tonight’s is an infuriating anti-performance of shambolic wimping and wussing. The maladjusted seven trickle onstage and proceed to… tune up for 15 minutes. This they do in between every song. Sometimes they vary it a little by swapping instruments (including cellos, trumpets – sadly underused), and blundering around with endless microphone refittings. On one such tedious intermission a guitarist gives us an impromptu falsetto rendition of “Like A Rolling Stone”; he gets two-thirds of the way through it before he’s reined in. That it’s on of the evening’s highlights is bitterly illuminating. Belle’s contempt for their admirers is neither big nor clever. Their rudeness is like that of Rik from “The Young Ones.” They come across as silly, shoddy amateurs. Surely that’s no longer the middle-class (aka “indie”) aesthetic. It’s promoted as endearing, but the majority of disenchanted fans here find it far from priceless.

So much tweaking, yet the sound when it deigns to arrive is vapid. Another song about “a girl” who “dreams of horses” – all the canon needs, right? Stuart Murdoch sings with a perversely English, Donovanesque feyness which may intrigue on record but here is timid, conservative and sometimes plain inaudible. Any momentum or seduction is sacrificed to arsing around and giggling like school kids. The boys seem childishly thrilled to be swearing in a church.

Isolated minutes (not “moments” – it’s not a night which earns or attains “moments”) serve to show that delicate gratifications can be detected beneath the bluff and boredom: “Stars Qf Track And Field” is a nimble enough nugget which entices some college-disco pogoing from the patiently devoted, while Monica Queen brings much needed guts and gusto to the new single. This almost distracts us from the architecture, and from our much-vaunted poet/artist/hero’s incongruous cheeky-lad demeanour. And ghastly shirt.

After the light relief of a hapless photographer emerging from the altar above the band mid-song like a displaced Mary Magdalene, we are graned dispensation. Those down the front whoop for an encore, presumably on the grounds that it’s more fun than the coach back to Glasgow. They don’t get one. I’m staggered that such a basic ineptitude and unjustified smugness have been allowed prior acclaim and even mystique. Perhaps we should clutch at hope by remembering now that giant oaks from tiny acorns grow.

Acorns are cool. Belle And Sebastian, on the other hand, seem hopless.

Chris Roberts

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