Belle & Sebastian @ The Leadmill, Sheffield, 2 Jul
For their first show this year, the Glaswegian pioneers of indie pop bring a set full of surprises to Sheffield and hint at a reunion with Isobel Campbell
“Oh, I’ve just remembered what I said last time we were here.”
As tonight’s Belle & Sebastian show at the unusually intimate Leadmill has worn on, Stuart Murdoch and Stevie Jackson have gently begun to bicker over why it was that a) they couldn’t quite recall the year they’d last played in Sheffield and b) why it was they didn’t have fond memories of the last show here, other than that Jackson had somehow rubbed the crowd up the wrong way.
“I said Aerosmith were better than The Smiths,” he says impishly. “Or maybe it was AC/DC.” With that, the band improbably launch into a cover of You Shook Me All Night Long on which Murdoch does a far better job of approximating Brian Johnson than anyone could have imagined. It’s been that kind of week for the Glasgow veterans, full of surprises. On Monday, they announced a new record to follow last year’s hat-trick of EPs; September’s Days of the Bagnold Summer will soundtrack the film of the same name, helmed by The Inbetweeners’ Simon Bird and to be released next year.
It’s their first soundtrack album since 2002’s Storytelling, and it’s to around that period that the group return tonight; they hand thoroughly belated live debuts to four tracks from their sometimes maligned fourth LP Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant, nearly two decades after its release. The harrowing The Chalet Lines, which details rape, punctures the otherwise chirpy atmosphere but is handled with the requisite sensitivity, whilst Jackson and Sarah Martin front deft, stripped-down takes on Beyond the Sunrise and Waiting for the Moon to Rise, respectively.
There’s room too for a first-ever Nice Day for a Sulk, whilst Family Tree makes the cut for the first time since 2004. This isn’t by accident; the band are gearing up for their long-planned Boaty Weekender next month, effectively the third iteration of the legendary Bowlie, this time on a cruise ship. They’ll play Fold Your Hands in full somewhere in the Med between Barcelona and Sardinia, and in introducing Beyond the Sunrise, Murdoch mentions he’ll soon be seeing Isobel Campbell, who penned the track before leaving the group acrimoniously in 2002. A reunion on the water might be in the offing.
Elsewhere, there’s a clutch of classics in amongst the rarities, although legendary debut LP Tigermilk is passed over entirely, and only Like Dylan in the Movies and Get Me Away from Here, I’m Dying make the cut from If You’re Feeling Sinister. With handsome, 80s-inflected new single Sister Buddha also given a first live airing, its potentially a challenging set for the casuals, even if The Leadmill’s cramped stage does see the customary invasion for The Boy with the Arab Strap. Still, it’s evidence that, after last year’s unconventional EP rollout, Belle & Sebastian are continuing to do things on their own terms – as they close in on 25 years since their annus mirabilis, they’ve earned the right by now.