Photos by Lee-Ann Richer.

Belle and Sebastian are a band I’ve been wanting to see for a long while. The prevalence of their songs on TV in the UK makes them practically an institution, and I was curious to hear their clever, complicated lyrics and lovely instrumental songs in person. 

Julien Baker is heart breaking and adorable. She’s completely dwarfed on the large stage, standing with just her guitar. Her songs are so fragile and maudlin, and she’s quiet as a mouse between songs, squeeking out thanks to people coming early to hear her and being so quiet and respectful. She sings about heartbreak heartbreakingly well, and the sparse stage makes her soaring vocals during hymn-like Rejoice all the more beautiful and spellbinding. The delivery of new track Shadow Boxing is gut wrenching, and demonstrates that Baker has a lot left to say about emotional pain. 

Belle and Sebastian take to the stage following a 50s style countdown. It’s almost always exciting (or terrifying) to have a countdown, and it heralds the sweet and unique voice of Stuart Murdoch opening the set with Act Of The Apostle. There’s a barrage of people heading to the front of the seated venue just seconds into second song I’m A Cuckoo, much to the surprise of Murdoch “I was gonna go for a slow burn tonight but yeah, let’s do it.” The band and crowd banter is relaxed and enjoyable, as Murdoch mentions the forays into relationships that inspired songs written what feels like a long time ago. The turns of phrase in the lyrics may have been written years ago, but they still sound fresh, clever and lovely. 

The 7 piece are joined by a local trumpeter for a few songs which adds yet another element to their rich instrumental palette. The huge backing screen cycles through various 70s wallpapers before a compelling video that accompanies Allie, featuring Sarah, a Torontonian dancer who Murdoch seeks out in the crowd. She’s out there, but not ready to come on stage just yet. The visuals for Little Lou, Ugly Jack, Prophet John are equally captivating, showing drawn scenes of a romance that match the lyrics. The band crack out the beautifully written The Loneliness of a Middle Distance Runner, with Murdoch exclaiming that this is a “deep, deep cut”. 

The crowd are energetic and vocal, with a break in the music prompting several song requests, much to Murdoch’s amazement, someone suggests the song they’re just about to play, which has never happened before and makes Dog on Wheels that bit more special. As Murdoch gets into his full on dad dancing during The Boy With The Arab Strap, he encourages the crowd that gathered down front to come up on stage. There are about 50 people bopping around, including Sarah from their video earlier. Murdoch’s requests for them to “just enjoy a dance” rather than take bloody selfies, and his ‘camp leader’ persona play very well for the audience as he gets all those on stage to sit around him in an attempt to emulate a Canadian summer camp experience. 

The set is closed out with Judy and the Dream of Horses with an encore of The Party Line that has the audience dancing out of the venue and Murdoch on top of his piano. These guys are seasoned professionals, and their comfort on stage and excellent music makes for a very entertaining concert. 

Track List: Julien Baker

1. Sprained Ankle

2. Blacktop

3. Everybody Does

4. Vessels

5. Red Door

6. Shadow Boxing

7. Funeral Pyre

8. Rejoice

9. Something

Tracks list: Belle and Sebastian

1. Act Of The Apostle

2. I’m a cuckoo

3. Seeing Other People

4. The State I Am In

5. She’s Losing It

6. Sweet Dewelee (New)

7. Allie

8. Piazza, New York Catcher

9. Little Lou, Ugly Jack, Prophet John

10. Like Dylan in the Movies

11. The Loneliness of a Middle Distance Runner

12. Play For Today

13. Dog on Wheels

14. The Boy With The Arab Strap

15. I Didn’t See It Coming

16. Judy and the Dream of Horses

17. The Party Line