Monday, February 27th, 2006
The Goalkeeper's Revenge
Was there anywhere better to be on Saturday night than on the Toronto waterfront at the Docks? Well, yeah, pretty much anywhere warm would have been nicer, but only if Belle & Sebastian and The New Pornographers would have come along as well. It was the completely sold-out opening night of the all-star tour, and that bill was pretty much the only thing that could have gotten me to go venture down to that venue again, let alone in the dead of winter.
Despite the fact that the New Pornographers are a pretty hot band in their own right right now, this tour wasn’t being billed as a co-headline deal and no one was pretending it was. They may well have played a sold-out show at the 1000-capactiy Phoenix just last October, but here they were the opening act with all that implied – no lights, a compact set and rather dodgy sound. It was a stripped-down lineup compared to the dream team tour from the Fall leaving five core members to do their best to recreate the miniature pop masterpieces of their three albums. The results were respectable, but not amazing – without the vocal power and idiosyncracies of Neko Case and Dan Bejar respectively, they compensated with quantity, almost everyone in the band stepping up the mic to fill things out. Keyboardist Kathryn Calder was probably under the most scrutiny but acquitted herself quite nicely in pinch-hitting for Neko Case. It was a treat having drummer Kurt Dahle moved up to the front of the stage as the man is a delight to watch, all stick spins and drummer faces. Carl Newman mentioned being awestruck at playing with the Scottish headliners and claimed to not have even spoken to them yet, and whether he was being serious or not, there was a bit of nervousness or stiffness in the band’s performance. So while they certainly got the crowd revved up effectively, they wouldn’t be stealing the show on this night.
The Scottish septet’s last appearance in Toronto at Massey Hall in November 2003 is still on my books as one of the best shows I’ve ever been to, so the bar was set pretty high for their performance Saturday. It wouldn’t have been realistic to expect the same show anyway – the sound has evolved with The Life Pursuit boasting a more stripped down feel (a relative term, yes) compared to their earlier records and the lineup reflected this. Whereas before they played with a miniature pop orchestra in tow, this time around they had just one auxilliary player handling some keyboard and cello duties. What hadn’t changed, thankfully, was the sheer sense of fun the band brought to the stage. Somehow managing to be both shy and swaggering at the same time, Stuart Murdoch had the 3000-strong crowd eating out of his hand and Stevie Jackson was the perfect slightly nebbish foil to Murdoch’s impish frontman.
Is there was any doubt that Belle & Sebastian had grown into an honest-to-God party band, they were dispelled with the live renditions of the glammy, stompy Life Pursuit numbers. It was impossible not to move, especially after Murdoch baited the audience by commenting on Toronto’s apparently international reputation for not dancing at shows – not that there was really room to bust a move, but there was some definite localized shimmying going on throughout the crowd. The band got into the act as well during “Electronic Rennaissance”, with Stevie doing a subdued robot while Stuart pulled the running man out of mothballs. While The Life Pursuit still provided the bulk of the set list, they also drew fairly heavily from Tigermilk and If You’re Feeling Sinister as well as some EP tracks – the middle period albums were almost completely shut out. There was some teasing at the start of the encore with Murdoch soliciting requests from audience, though there quite obviously no intention of deviating from the game plan. They played two more Sinister tracks (I don’t think anyone was disappointed their requests weren’t honoured) and bid us goodnight at almost the stroke of midnight.
If there was any irksome point, it was when Murdoch invited the girl who was the only black mark on the last show back onstage to sing with them again (recap: last time, the band invited an audience member onstage to sing a song and this girl got to do so – and requested the band play one of her own compositions, much to my and many others’ irritation). At least this time, she sang one of their songs and rather well I admit, but the attitude/arrogance she carried herself with both last time and this time wasn’t endearing in the least. Boo. But that complaint notwithstanding (even though it did pull down the momentum of the show for the next little while), I had a wonderful time and even managed to get out of there without excruciating back pain. Bonus.
Photos! Hell yes. If you were one of the poor souls way at the back, this is what it looked like up front… Also, reviews from For The Records and Bury Me Not (the trick to having the Docks not suck completely is to show up hours before the doors open. Sad but true), review and pics from Suckingalemon (who also got pics of both bands’ setlists – TNP, B&S) and more excellent pics from theplot and Rock Paper Pixels. Oh, and I was mistaken – Stuart wasn’t wearing the exact same shirt as last time – this time it was a long-sleeve. Update: Chart has their review up.
We will return with non-Belle & Sebastian-related content tomorrow.
np – Shearwater / Winged Life