Belle and Sebastian / New Pornographers
9:30 Club; Washington, D.C.
Stuart Murdoch dances like he's
recently come off a stint of watching hours of The Breakfast Club on
loop. He twirls and kicks as if the ghosts of Molly Ringwald's past characters
have him possessed. His energy goes against my presuppositions about Belle and
Sebastian's live set--that its set possibilities would foster thoughts of
peaceful yawning and the desire for a seat. Two nights of the band's
fast-paced new sound at the 9:30 Club debunked these theories.
Night one, Sunday, March 5: The band eased the crowd into a warm bath with the
first bubbling notes of "Stars of Track and Field." Glowing in the warm shine
of the yellow lights and the welcoming rise of the violin, the audience
settled into their comfort zone and realized their surroundings, upping the
ante from bumbling foot-shuffling to all-out disregard for other people. "This
feels so cozy," Stuart Murdoch said. "It makes me want to get into my
The roller-coaster of tempos, from "Funny Little Frog" to "A Century of
Fakers" to "I'm a Cuckoo," heightened anticipation and the possibilities. But
the band seemed to have pow-wowed beforehand, dreaming up the set with the
largest amount of prime opportunities to get down. They rocked "Electronic
Renaissance," with a city lights background, "Your Cover's Blown," with Stuart
thrusting his pelvis and hitting the cymbal simultaneously, and "White Collar
Boy," with fatter beats and more authentic-sounding harmonies than the
recording. After "I Don't Love Anyone," one of a few throwbacks to
Tigermilk, Murdoch warned his snuggly new friends, "I hope you're glad to
know I've come a long way in my emotional development since then, and for that
I have this group of people to thank," pointing to the band of seven others,
including guitarist Stevie Jackson, expert hand-clapper in skinny-pants. The
weep-worthy encore, consisting of "Fox in the Snow" and "Get Me Away From Here
I'm Dying," left the crowd wistful and romantic. The entire set reminded fans
of songs they'd forgotten and put new emphasis on the overlooked, finer points
of their extensive catalogue.
Night two, Monday, March 6: Murdoch and co. obliged silent wishes for
infrequent repeats from the night before, starting with "Expectations,"
tossing in a little "She's Losing It" and breaking hearts with "The Wrong
Girl." They kicked the set into gear with the same electric feel of the night
before, Murdoch's energy replenished, his dance moves intact. "Me and the
Major" and "Judy and the Dream of Horses" capped off the show with an ending
fit for 1996.
Openers the New Pornographers are coming off their own avalanche of praise for
Twin Cinema, only the hottest woman in indie rock Neko Case and the
chain-smoking, self-loathing Dan Bejar were notably absent. A.C. Newman held
it together with his harmonic backup band, and they mixed up their set with
pieces from each of three albums--"The Body Says No," "Breaking the Law,"
"From Blown Speakers," and "Sing Me Spanish Techno." The precursor to Belle
and Sebastian's undying energy, the New Pornographers set the precedent of
fervency and singalongs. The combination unmatched, the choice of songs too
perfect, Belle and Sebastian and the New Pornographers created a sublime night
for awkward, lovesick fans eager to realize their dreams. -Rebecca A.
Photo: Photo M.Trayner