LIVE REVIEW: Belle & Sebastian, Newcastle City Hall

Belle & Sebastian.
Belle & Sebastian.

Although they rank among Britain’s finest acts in recent decades, even ardent fans concede that Belle & Sebastian can be a tad hit-and-miss live.

There’s no doubt they’ve made vast strides since the shambolic showings of their early days, yet even on the eve of their 20th anniversary, the Glaswegians’ performances have a tendency to fluctuate from night to night.

Luckily for those who flocked to the City Hall, Saturday found Stuart Murdoch and company well and truly on song, turning in a tremendous career-spanning set which encapsulated every facet of their decidedly leftfield appeal.

For all its history, the venue could have been custom built for concerts such as this, with its old fashioned setting and do-I-sit-or-do-I-stand dilemma playing strangely to the group’s endearing sense of awkwardness.

Indeed, for much of the night their audience was split, with half blissfully dancing away while the rest rocked from buttock to buttock to their fey, almost-unassumingly-perfect pop gems.

With such a wealth to choose from, the band have always boasted a degree of flexibility, but with the release of new album Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance, their setlists are now all-but-impossible to predict.

It’s not their best record by any means, but there’s no doubt it’s spiced things up, not only through additions like the throbbing Pet Shop Boys disco of The Party Line and guitarist Stevie Jackson’s bongo-inflicted Perfect Couples, but also how they’ve influenced older selections.

Case in point is Electronic Renaissance, a misplaced synth-heavy oddity from their majestic college-funded debut Tigermilk that’s finally found its place among the similarly disparate new cuts.

If that was the night’s biggest surprise, then The Boy With The Arab Strap was its chief inevitability.

One of the only true indispensables, it was this clapalong classic which finally ushered the entire audience to its feet, with scores invited to sway onstage and the rest equally taken by the sheer unabated joy which swept the room.

With Murdoch having joined the audience himself during both Lord Anthony and If You Find Yourself Caught In Love, it almost went unnoticed that they hadn’t aired a single number from 1996’s If You’re Feeling Sinister, the record many still hail as their finest hour.

That, though, was seen to with a glorious singalong encore of Get Me Away From Here, I’m Dying, a sublime signoff which ensured that tonight at least this most variable of live acts sent each and every fan home with a glowing smile.