It’s a tough one to contemplate; Belle and Sebastian playing at The Hydro, why? Yeah they’ll comfortably bring a crowd to their hometown’s flashy new arena, but these guys aren’t an arena band; maybe three nights (or more) at the Barras doesn’t squeeze into their tour schedule, add to that the fact that they got the Scottish Festival Orchestra in tow and things start to fall into place.
Opening up proceedings are extremely likeable Baltimore dream pop merchants Lower Dens, however from my seat up in the rafters the band are hardly visible, the screens are yet to be turned on and it’s difficult to make out what the act is wearing never mind gage their reactions.
Still, they sound impressive, despite the atmosphere void I’m surrounded by – there no-one as of yet sat anywhere near me, as tracks like recent album, Escape From Evil, highlight ‘Ondine’ soar right through The Hydro in a dream-like haze.
The band are clearly chuffed to be on this tour, and know just how special this show is to the headliners, still from my vantage point it’s very difficult to judge the vibe down on the floor, they’re certainly worth giving attention to; although they deliver a much more ethereally beautiful experience and not the plaster-a-smile-on-your-face whimsical pop of tonight’s headliners, Lowers Dens output has been up there with anything Belle and Sebastian have produced in the last ten years, certainly one to take in in a smaller space if you fancy a lovely wee sway along.
Tonight everyone is waiting for one thing, Belle and Sebastian are the homecoming heroes and it appears a lot has been put into tonight’s show.
A purposefully low budget video is aired before they take the stage, where someone (we’re not quite sure who) dressed and impersonating Billy Connolly introduces a tongue in cheek history of the band, describing how the band got their name from fighting Sebastian Coe in The Belle pub, introducing us to the legendary Camber Sands only infront of Cambuslang Industrial Estate, describing the band’s lengthy prison time and showing us an array of the roughest pubs in Glasgow introduced by the line “here’s the wee happy café where the band used to drink tea and write pop songs… Happy days!”
Then the orchestra takes the stage, before the band, it was always a worry that use of the Scottish Festival Orchestra would mean a very new album heavy set, however we’re pleasantly surprised as the set goes on to feature more tracks from 2003’s Dear Catastrophe Waitress than it does this year’s, nice but not mind blowing, Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance.
It is indeed a new one, opening single from the album, ‘Nobody’s Empire’, which opens the set and Stuart Murdoch, sans stupid wee hat (it’ll make an appearance later), leads proceedings with his proclaimed most personal song he’s ever written complete with glorious full orchestral flourish.
Again at this point it’s difficult to judge the atmosphere on the floor, as all that is visible is a sea of heads, but some visible bopping along can be made out as the band break into classic ‘I’m A Cuckoo’ and the ever flamboyant Murdoch prances around with a cheeky grin plastered to his face.
“It’s Friday night, we’re going to have a bit of a party!” Murdoch announces with glee as they break into a disco-ed up newbie ‘The Party Line’; it’s fun stuff but that new album filled potential is still hanging in your mind at the third track of the set.
Still, the full orchestral arrangements sound magnificent in The Hydro, but the venue does lack in atmosphere, certainly from the seating area, although I have enjoyed some very different, yet equally outstanding shows from the arena floor.
Murdoch uses a launcher to fire t-shirt’s into the crowd early in the set, which he reveals to be Ride t-shirt, who are playing the Barras tonight; “they wait 20 years and they pick tonight” quips Murdoch, possibly stressing his own frustration or that of many of the crowd at not being able to see both shows.
A particularly sunny sound ‘I Want The World To Stop’ leads us in to the Stevie Jackson led newbie ‘Perfect Couples’, before that silly wee hat Murdoch also seems to sport makes an appearance about 45-minutes in as a wonderful soaring arrangement of ‘Lord Antony’ is performed complete with dramatic school fight performance from a team of dancers, as Murdoch makes full use of the walkway provided.
Indeed Belle and Sebastian are at their best when those ever charming pop songs click into place with, the complexity, yet quirky sing-along-ability that Murdoch’s songwriting possesses, ‘If You’re Feeling Sinister’ is a perfect example of this and goes down a treat with an extra wee bump added on from the engrossing orchestral arrangements that list this performance to Hydro levels of hugeness.
There more dramatic dancers for ‘Dear Catastrophe Waitress’ and ‘If You Get Yourself Caught In Love’ as Murdoch interacts with the front row, before the room noticeable take it up a notch for probably the acts most famous track, ‘The Boy With The Arab Strap’.
It’s at this point that a collection of fans are invited onto the stage to dance, culminating in Murdoch leading them in a finger clicking skip up the walkway in some bizarre Westside Story effort.
Huge balloons drop from the ceiling and it looks like a real party atmosphere down there as Murdoch boots them back into the crowd revealing the experience to be “really therapeutic”, before a particular huge sounding version of ‘Sleep Around The Clock’ sets everyone dancing again.
An encore of two more darling oldies, a straight up version of ‘Get Me Away From Here, I’m Dying’ and full orchestra take on ‘La Pastie De La Bourgueiese’, round the evening off in wonderfully, putting to bed any reservations and tying of what is surely Belle and Sebastian’s biggest show ever with all the glory it should have.
Words: Iain Dawson
Photos: Kyle Burgess