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A Magazine for Sheffield
Live / stage review

Contagiously joyous: Belle and Sebastian at Sheffield Academy

The indie-pop veterans have spent decades honing their craft – and it shows in a set that radiates a love for live performance.

12 July 2023 at
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Tom Roper.

One thing you notice at a Belle and Sebastian show is how devoted their fans are. They’re an audience who know all the words, to all the songs. When the group offer a rare outing of ‘A Century of Fakers’ from their 1997 EP 3.. 6.. 9 Seconds of Light, there are some people who react as if Neil Diamond has just walked on stage and burst into a sing-along rendition of ‘Sweet Caroline’. And when an audience member who has travelled all the way from Romania requests ‘Dress Up in You’ and Stuart Murdoch can’t remember the words, it’s the fans who pick things up and help him along.

Opening with ‘Expectations’ from their 1996 debut album Tiger Milk, Murdoch’s rolling acoustic guitar gives way to a flamenco-inspired horn section and the power of the eight-piece band becomes evident. Strings, horns, keyboards, recorders, synths, and percussion all add up to create that Belle and Sebastian sound; one that can veer from lush and sophisticated orchestration to childlike simplicity.

From the contagiously joyous ‘I’m a Cuckoo’ and ‘If She Wants Me’ to the poignancy of songs like ‘She’s Losing It’ and ‘Judy and the Dream of Horses’, it’s clear that these songs really mean something to their audience and to the band themselves.

And they can cut a rug too! Some of the most inspired moments come when Sarah Martin takes on vocal duties. Her soulful pipes are in full force during the seventies disco stomp of ‘When You’re Not With Me’ from their latest album Late Developers.

They dedicate ‘I Want the World to Stop’ to recently deceased writer Milan Kundera before ‘The Boy With the Arab Strap’ sees the traditional invitation from Murdoch for fans to join him on stage and dance. Returning for an encore of ‘Your Cover’s Blown’ (only performed for special people apparently) and ‘Get Me Away From Here, I’m Dying’, it’s evident that Belle and Sebastian absolutely love performing live – a love that’s mirrored back to them by their Sheffield audience.

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