If ever there was a forum for Belle and Sebastian to show its transformation from a band of timid, effete liberal arts-studying outsiders to self-assured international pop stars, it was their show at the Bank of America Pavilion.
Ardent fans of the band, and they can be downright terrifying in their devotion, know that Belle and Sebastian grew into a muscular concert ensemble at least 10 years ago. But its reputation outside of this inner circle remains that of cardigan-wearing wallflowers. Let those misconceptions remain, because it means more Belle and Sebastian for the rest of us. Would a bunch of dull Scotsmen toss around beach balls during a concert? You can draw your own conclusions. (And for the record, there were no cardigans onstage.)
The Boston show, a kickoff to its American tour, was a rarity because Belle and Sebastian has no new album to promote. Stuart Murdoch announced early that “we thought we’d play some random selections for you.” This was the joy of the show. Songs from the band’s college days mingled with later offerings from 2010’s clap-happy “Belle and Sebastian Write About Love.”
With this lush pop buffet put forth, the Belle and Sebastian growth pattern could be traced, albeit in a hopscotch pattern, throughout the evening. The best of 1996 Belle and Sebastian songs often begin with Murdoch, sotto voce and rather timid, singing nearly solo. Slowly the band swelled to a crescendo behind him and crashed in a lovely fashion as he sang about the grim state that he was in, or “The Stars of Track and Field.” (Please note that the word “twee” will not be used to describe the band’s music in this review.)
Contrast this with 2006’s “Funny Little Frog,” a swinging and cheeky love song. “I am a jester in the ancient court, and you’re the funny little frog in my throat.” Murdoch didn’t sound the least bit timid in this serenade. The band’s music has grown up, and so have its fans. Those gents with the Paul Weller haircuts and the Ben Sherman shirts were still in attendance, but they brought along wives and tykes.
Belle and Sebastian’s best songs fall in the middle of these extremes. It’s a serving of cheery pop laced with arsenic lyrics. The band, this time with a four-piece string section in tow, brought out the finest of these compositions. It’s always charming to hear an audience sing along with “I Don’t Love Anyone” and “Get Me Away From Here I’m Dying.” And it wouldn’t be a Belle and Sebastian concert without “The Boy With the Arab Strap.” Fortunately most of the audience, including those children, have no idea what an Arab strap is. It’s best not to ask questions and simply enjoy the jangly, ’60s-inspired melody.Christopher Muther can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Muther