Belle and Sebastian/Teenage Fanclub
East River State Park
Thursday, September 30
“Make me dance/I want to surrender,” croons Stuart Murdoch, doing both, actually, as “I Didn’t See It Coming” winds down to inaugurate Belle and Sebastian’s 20-song set, which just an hour ago seemed doomed to be a quasi-hurricane-addled washout, but was in fact addled by nary a drop. “Oh, what a great job,” he adds as applause overtakes him; soon he is tossing band-autographed footballs (American footballs!) into the crowd. For children 12 and under, he specifies. That, indeed, is a pretty good job.
A hell of a Glaswegian double bill here, as sonically pristine as any outdoor show I can remember, every jangle of opener Teenage Fanclub’s sweetly euphoric power-pop crisply rendered. They write gorgeous love songs with pushover titles like “I Don’t Want to Control You,” reminding you how shocking and oddly soothing it is to hear well-executed four-part harmony in person; you can almost picture the Facebook profiles of the children’s-librarian types they’re singing to. And when it all starts to feel a bit professorial, there’s a (slightly) surlier detour like “Don’t Look Back,” the drums driving a bit harder, the distortion a bit heavier, the lyrical sentiments (“I’d steal a car to drive you home”) showing just a hint of edge. And you can’t go wrong with “The Concept,” harking all the way back to 1991’s Bandwagonesque, featuring perhaps the sweetest, most heartbreaking Oh yeah‘s in pop history.
B&S, of course, pretty much are children’s-librarian types, still twee as fuck (horns, flute, a string section, lyrics rhyming art school with assholes, etc.) but with pop hooks galore: the fuzzy guitar line running through “I’m a Cuckoo” is a monster. They air out several tunes from their upcoming Belle and Sebastian Write About Love that the crowd already seems intimately familiar with it (it leaked), singing expert backing vocals in three different keys en masse for the jaunty “I’m Not Living in the Real World,” say. (We also whistle the coda to b-side “The Loneliness of a Middle-Distance Runner” and watch as Murdoch pulls several people onstage to clap/dance along to “There’s Too Much Love.”) But the deep cuts, of course, fare better, especially a relatively quiet, restrained, gentle, and devastating “We Rule the School” — “Do something pretty while you can,” Murdoch sings, and you can practically hear 5,000 status updates being born.
The thing about nights when it looks like it’s about to rain balls and yet it doesn’t ever actually rain balls is that they turn out to be beautiful, and Murdoch, too, seems to sense the ridiculous idylic-ness of it all, rambling on about politics (for this crowd, “Anyone here watch The Daily Show?” is an entirely rhetorical question) and why he respects us for not waving lighters and how he frets over his audience’s gender makeup (“Once it gets past 60 percent guys, I quit”). The main set concludes with “Sleep the Clock Around,” the lyrics, like the rest of tonight, almost suspiciously perfect: “And the trouble is over/Everybody got paid/Everybody is happy/They are glad that they came.” Hope you all didn’t waste too much money on ponchos.
Critical Bias: Turned down a friend’s request to play ping-pong tonight to see this, touching off a lengthy argument about which activity was more manly.
Overheard: (As “I Want the World to Stop” begins.) “Oh, this is it. This is my song. Oh, God.” (Woman fans herself briskly.)
Random Notebook Dump: How many people actually live in the giant condo to your right when you’re facing the stage? Like, five?
Teenage Fanclub setlist
Sometimes I Don’t Need to Believe in Anything
I Need Direction
I Don’t Want Control of You
Don’t Look Back
Your Love Is the Place I Come From
When I Still Have Thee
Belle and Sebastian setlist
I Didn’t See It Coming
I’m a Cuckoo
Step Into My Office, Baby
Like Dylan in the Movies
I’m Not Living in the Real World
Piazza, New York Catcher
I Want the World to Stop
Sukie in the Graveyard
We Rule the School
Another Sunny Day
The Loneliness of a Middle Distance Runner
Write About Love
There’s Too Much Love
The Boy With the Arab Strap
If You Find Yourself Caught in Love
Judy and the Dream of Horses
Sleep the Clock Around
Me and the Major
Get Me Away From Here, I’m Dying