Music

In Between Days

So far, Belle and Sebastian's most indelible songs have lingered in the privileged liminal spaces between childhood and the grown-up beyond: whispers in a choir stall, stolen kisses behind a stairwell, lonesome epiphanies gleaned through a bus window. Soon enough they'll have to cross that threshold for once and all, since main scribe Stuart Murdoch is running low on tales to tell out of school. The touchstone minutiae (Young Adult paperbacks, initials carved on trees) and tactile potency of earlier lyrics have been leached away over time, while the signature musical elements—diaphanous guitar lines, brushed-velvet drums, wistful organ humming—have edged aside within expanding Walls of Sound to accommodate everything from chamber orchestrals to Dixie manqué to Austin Powers jitterbug, with wildly varying results. Perhaps their loveliest recent effort is simply a subtle revision of trad B&S: Disgruntled with the present and peering warily into the immediate hereafter, "The Loneliness of a Middle Distance Runner" (from last year's Jonathan David quickie) unearths those bedrock instruments and jogs unadorned through a flushed tour of Murdoch perennials—shit jobs, public transport, track-and-field.

"Middle Distance Runner" was one of the few tunes making an appearance on both nights of Belle's Hammerstein Ballroom stint on May 5 and 6 (fellow sportsman "The Stars of Track and Field," their homage to the cover of Roxy Music's Flesh + Blood, oxygenated Monday night), and the lack of overlap points up how thick a catalog the group has compiled after just six years of recorded output. Previewing a few selections from June's Storytelling soundtrack (curiously set for release many months after Todd Solondz's movie came and went), B&S also managed to touch—however briefly—on each of their four long-players and seven EPs, abetted by horns, strings, and as many as four underworked percussionists at once. (Sunday's featherbedding at times approached the Wu-Tangian.) Sexed out in tight white T-shirts ("Stuart's ripped," a compatriot murmured wondrously), Murdoch played the perfect gentleman to the exceedingly well-behaved crowd, inviting fans onstage to dance and gently ribbing genial sometime vocalist Stevie Jackson, while Isobel Campbell embodied the sulky, undersocialized lass of a dozen B&S narratives: flouncing into the wings between tambourine split-shifts, practicing semi-yogic kick motions with her back to the audience.

The set lists soared above and beyond all rational expectation: the obsessively Love-sick "Dog on Wheels," the ultimatum-cum-ambush "Simple Things" (maybe the most concentrated distillation of the B&S vapours on record), the Dorian Gray piano melancholia of "Slow Graffiti," and that literary-all-star pep rally for the ultimate m!ssundaztood girl, "Le Pastie de la Bourgeoisie." Comprehensive and generous as they were, though, the shows weren't quite transportive. Sunday was tight and nervous (Murdoch's belabored overture to "Stayin' Alive" all but preempted the loopy pleasures of his Vienna choirboy variation on the Gibbian castrato), Monday meandering but looser (the evening's unannounced borrowed finery was Blondie's "I'm Always Touched [By Your Presence Dear]"). The bonfire trails of sound didn't permeate the cavernous Hammerstein so much as waft up and away. Yet the odd remotion was somewhat fitting. Belle and Sebastian have always prioritized the itemized remembrance of moments gone, passing, anticipated, or reconsidered, and right now, the moment in question is the first blush of youth—either as it deepens into "the colour of blood, chaos and the corruption of a happy soul" (as "Middle Distance Runner" terms the future), or as it merely pales and fades. Whatever the band has lost may be a discovery unto itself. —Jessica Winter

Middle distance runner Stuart Murdoch
photo: Jennifer S. Altman
Middle distance runner Stuart Murdoch


Mama Said

Her son may be a zillionaire, but Janice Combs is not above scooping candied yams, collards, and mac and cheese into plastic containers from behind the steam table at Mama Duke's, her Brooklyn takeout joint. "I'm not a sit-down kind of person," says Puff Daddy's mommy. "I'm a workaholic like my son, although not as bad as him. He's more like his father. I know when to stop and get some rest."

Long a fixture just inside the door as the self-described "hostess with the mostess" at Justin's, her Bad Boy's Chelsea spot, Mrs. Combs decided what she really wanted was her own place. Last year she took her mother's recipes and Justin's chef John Cabbell and headed to a former hair salon in Prospect Heights, at a location which might as well be zoned for comfort food: on Flatbush Avenue right over the Bergen Street 1s and 2s, around the corner from the police and fire stations. Cabbell, who has also cooked at Chez Josephine, prides himself on making everything from scratch daily (he claims to make the sides hourly), and says Mr. Diddy is cool with his defection, mostly because he knows where to find him: "He still calls me up when he's hungry."

Puff must miss his grandma's cooking. Jessie Smalls, who passed six years ago, came to Harlem from Hollyhill, South Carolina, and soon became a regular cook at uptown Baptist church dinners. "Back home, if people wanted cabbage, greens, a chicken, they just went in their yard and took it," says her daughter, who hopes to franchise her mother's name and maybe open a supper club. For now she keeps busy with her flagship storefront, fashion consulting, her three little dogs, and dropping in on her son's tour schedule. "The community has been so supportive," she says. "Everyone knows this is Puffy's mom's restaurant." Are we still allowed to call him that? "His daddy called him Seanie-poo. I just call him Seanie." —Josh Goldfein


Ham on the Lam

Someone at Lincoln Center might want to check the dosages of Robert Lloyd's meds. The Met bass sang the role of Osmin, the bloodthirsty servant of Mozart's Abduction From the Seraglio, in concert with the New York Philharmonic at Avery Fisher on May 2. There's not a lot of action in Abduction, so it's often performed as a recital, but Lloyd could not be contained in the pen with the rest of the cast. At each entrance he charged from the wing, ignoring the onstage orchestra as he plowed through it, gesticulating like a buffo ham. If there had been scenery, he'd have chewed it up and spat it into the first few rows. His enthusiasm wasn't confined to his acting; in one third-act aria (about the partying he'd do after lynching the heroes) he hung onto a deep "zu" so long that even the strings couldn't keep up. Whatever he's taking, they should put it in the water fountains backstage. —J.G.

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