Belle and Sebastian were not shy about asking people to dance on Friday night — and they brought with them a small orchestra to ensure the Riviera felt like a bustling ballroom during their 16-song set. If the introspective Scottish band seemed to be coming out of its shell after 20 years, it had everything to do with its latest record, “Girls In Peacetime Want to Dance.”
Produced by Gnarls Barkley and Animal Collective pro Ben H. Allen III for the first time, the album presents a considerable shift away from the honeyed symphonics of eight previous releases to a new era of disco pop trysts on songs like “The Party Line” and “The Power of Three.” The band seemed keen to celebrate the milestone by inviting a number of excited fans on stage who Charlie Browned their way through the glitzy “Enter Sylvia Plath” before returning for “Lazy Line Painter Jane” that featured opener Honeyblood’s Stina Marie Claire Tweeddale on vocals. Singer Stuart Murdoch had his moves, too, scattering about the stage in dizzying circles with his keytar, even though he was admittedly feeling under the weather.
“Does anyone here have some healing hands?” the frontman asked the crowd in his Scottish drawl while taking a sip of tea from a paper cup. “Maybe you can just put them on my heart for a second and get it all out.” It was just one of several times Murdoch glibly interacted with the packed room, later jumping in the photographer pit and handing off vocal duties to a few fans for “Piazza, New York Catcher” and joking with the seated balcony that they in fact looked like they were at a baseball game.
The band, arguably known more for its soundtrack contributions to movies like “Juno” and “High Fidelity,” is by now well aware of how to set the mood and did so on this night through large cinematic sweeps in tone, beginning with a heartfelt rendition of “Nobody’s Empire” featuring Murdoch at the piano and progressing to a hippie circle clap-a-long to “The Boy With The Arab Strap.” The vibe was further enhanced by gorgeous video projections, likely Murdoch’s handiwork as the frontman comes off directing his first feature film, “God Help The Girl,” and he extended the skills to corralling everyone on the stage.
Sarah Martin, the band’s harmonizing vocalist and flautist, shined on the electric jam “The Power of Three” and longtime guitarist and vocalist Stevie Jackson was the perfect host for the country rock ode “The Wrong Girl” and the trippy ‘cautionary tale’ of “Perfect Couples.” Keyboardist Chris Geddes, drummer Richard Colburn and bassist Bobby Kildea as well as a string section and trumpeter were also essential to adding to the momentous production that Belle & Sebastian is known for, quickly moving through style sheets of bossa nova, singer-songwriter, indie pop and psychedelia without a misstep. The effort received a standing ovation for one of their best performances of the night, “Sleep Around The Clock.”
Together, the 13-piece group turned the night into an all-out party that was hard not to move along to, and even if some of the music sounded different, at the core nothing had really changed. The band is still a bunch of witty storytellers drenched in enough retro charm it has mothballs to preserve it for younger generations that will undoubtedly flock to the light of the new dance tracks. So when Murdoch chided the front row for being too young to find any relevance in the band’s older material, he was dead wrong. “I guess that’s the beauty of music,” he conceded. Everyone can find the beat.
I’m A Cuckoo
The Party Line
Le Pastie De La Bourgeoisie
Sukie In The Graveyard
Piazza, New York Catcher
A Century Of Fakers
The Power Of Three
Enter Sylvia Plath
The Wrong Girl
The Boy With The Arab Strap
Lazy Line Painter Jane
Sleep Around The Clock
The Blues Are Still Blue
Selena Fragassi is a local freelance writer.