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Concert Review: Belle & Sebastian w/ New Pornographers, 3/11/06

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The New Pornographers took the stage first and played a tight hour-long set. They sounded better than I expected, especially given the absence of Neko Case.

The Immaculate Machine’s Kathryn Calder stood-in for Case and did a very respectable job tackling the female vocal parts. The band opened with the title track from their new album Twin Cinema and kept the energy level high throughout.

New songs dominated the set but the band thankfully found the time to play some old highlights, such as “From Blown Speakers” and “My Slow Descent Into Alcoholism.”

Despite reservations about bandleader A.C. Newman, I was surprisingly satisfied with New Pornographers’ opening set. Their sugary power pop has always worked best for me in small, concentrated doses, and an hour-long run time proved ideal. What’s more, their show inspired me to go back and give the new album a longer listen, which I think is always a good indicator of a successful concert.

If the New Pornographers are cute as buttons, than Belle & Sebastian, with their thick Scottish accents, are as adorable as zoo babies. This sharply groomed, well-mannered gang of musicians played an exuberant set that stretched over two hours.

Belle & Sebastian’s set was unexpectedly upbeat – celebratory even; which surprised me considering that B & S has penned some of the most beautifully sad songs I’ve heard (I’d refer you to the exquisitely depressing “The Chalet Lines” from their fine “Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like A Peasant” album). The evening’s sad bastard highlight was surely the moving “Fox In The Snow,” played in “E Major, the saddest tuning.”

But for the majority of the show, wiry frontman Stuart Murdoch danced and bounced around the stage, clearly energized by the large turnout given that it was the band’s first ever show in Wisconsin.

I think the evening’s most surprising song choice was the techno-driven “Electric Renaissance” from the band’s classic debut album “Tigermilk.” In a live setting the song, with its blips and loops, recalled a happier “Kid A”-era Radiohead.

The band’s rocking renditions of “If You Find Yourself Caught In Love” and “I’m A Cuckoo” even sort of redeemed their somewhat disappointing “Dear Catastrophe Waitress” album for me.

“Jonathan David” and “She’s Losing It” were also great to hear live. But for as stellar of a show Belle & Sebastian put on, I wish they could have worked in “The State I Am In” or at least “Get Me Away From Here I’m Dying.”

Small quibbles aside, I’m glad this fantastic band finally found its way across the Atlantic and to Wisconsin. Here’s hoping they don’t stay away for too long.

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