Monday, February 27th, 2006

The Goalkeeper's Revenge

Was there anywhere better to be on Saturday night than on the Toronto waterfront at the Docks? Well, yeah, pretty much anywhere warm would have been nicer, but only if Belle & Sebastian and The New Pornographers would have come along as well. It was the completely sold-out opening night of the all-star tour, and that bill was pretty much the only thing that could have gotten me to go venture down to that venue again, let alone in the dead of winter.

Despite the fact that the New Pornographers are a pretty hot band in their own right right now, this tour wasn’t being billed as a co-headline deal and no one was pretending it was. They may well have played a sold-out show at the 1000-capactiy Phoenix just last October, but here they were the opening act with all that implied – no lights, a compact set and rather dodgy sound. It was a stripped-down lineup compared to the dream team tour from the Fall leaving five core members to do their best to recreate the miniature pop masterpieces of their three albums. The results were respectable, but not amazing – without the vocal power and idiosyncracies of Neko Case and Dan Bejar respectively, they compensated with quantity, almost everyone in the band stepping up the mic to fill things out. Keyboardist Kathryn Calder was probably under the most scrutiny but acquitted herself quite nicely in pinch-hitting for Neko Case. It was a treat having drummer Kurt Dahle moved up to the front of the stage as the man is a delight to watch, all stick spins and drummer faces. Carl Newman mentioned being awestruck at playing with the Scottish headliners and claimed to not have even spoken to them yet, and whether he was being serious or not, there was a bit of nervousness or stiffness in the band’s performance. So while they certainly got the crowd revved up effectively, they wouldn’t be stealing the show on this night.

The Scottish septet’s last appearance in Toronto at Massey Hall in November 2003 is still on my books as one of the best shows I’ve ever been to, so the bar was set pretty high for their performance Saturday. It wouldn’t have been realistic to expect the same show anyway – the sound has evolved with The Life Pursuit boasting a more stripped down feel (a relative term, yes) compared to their earlier records and the lineup reflected this. Whereas before they played with a miniature pop orchestra in tow, this time around they had just one auxilliary player handling some keyboard and cello duties. What hadn’t changed, thankfully, was the sheer sense of fun the band brought to the stage. Somehow managing to be both shy and swaggering at the same time, Stuart Murdoch had the 3000-strong crowd eating out of his hand and Stevie Jackson was the perfect slightly nebbish foil to Murdoch’s impish frontman.

Is there was any doubt that Belle & Sebastian had grown into an honest-to-God party band, they were dispelled with the live renditions of the glammy, stompy Life Pursuit numbers. It was impossible not to move, especially after Murdoch baited the audience by commenting on Toronto’s apparently international reputation for not dancing at shows – not that there was really room to bust a move, but there was some definite localized shimmying going on throughout the crowd. The band got into the act as well during “Electronic Rennaissance”, with Stevie doing a subdued robot while Stuart pulled the running man out of mothballs. While The Life Pursuit still provided the bulk of the set list, they also drew fairly heavily from Tigermilk and If You’re Feeling Sinister as well as some EP tracks – the middle period albums were almost completely shut out. There was some teasing at the start of the encore with Murdoch soliciting requests from audience, though there quite obviously no intention of deviating from the game plan. They played two more Sinister tracks (I don’t think anyone was disappointed their requests weren’t honoured) and bid us goodnight at almost the stroke of midnight.

If there was any irksome point, it was when Murdoch invited the girl who was the only black mark on the last show back onstage to sing with them again (recap: last time, the band invited an audience member onstage to sing a song and this girl got to do so – and requested the band play one of her own compositions, much to my and many others’ irritation). At least this time, she sang one of their songs and rather well I admit, but the attitude/arrogance she carried herself with both last time and this time wasn’t endearing in the least. Boo. But that complaint notwithstanding (even though it did pull down the momentum of the show for the next little while), I had a wonderful time and even managed to get out of there without excruciating back pain. Bonus.

Photos! Hell yes. If you were one of the poor souls way at the back, this is what it looked like up front… Also, reviews from For The Records and Bury Me Not (the trick to having the Docks not suck completely is to show up hours before the doors open. Sad but true), review and pics from Suckingalemon (who also got pics of both bands’ setlists – TNP, B&S) and more excellent pics from theplot and Rock Paper Pixels. Oh, and I was mistaken – Stuart wasn’t wearing the exact same shirt as last time – this time it was a long-sleeve. Update: Chart has their review up.

Postscript – The New York Post (Bugmenot) takes a moment to talk to Sarah Martin and Stevie Jackson.

We will return with non-Belle & Sebastian-related content tomorrow.

np – Shearwater / Winged Life

By : Frank Yang at 8:02 am
Category: Uncategorized
RSS Feed for this post14 Responses.
  1. suckingalemon says:

    if people showed up at 6 they would have gotten an ok spot. that’s all im saying.

    when you mention miniature pop orchestra i was expecting that (i was not at massey hall, i doubt i even knew who the band were then) this time around, im sure it was amazing to see back then.

    i am glad to see another positive revue, i think the venue ruined many’s experiences.

    the mob for the b&s setlist was nuts.
    & your photos are really great, very colorful which was hard to do given the lighting that was provided was quite ugly.


  2. Sean says:

    WOW! That’s a pretty great setlist. "She’s Losing It"!

    Hopefully they make their way to Australia on this tour. Thanks a lot for this review. Wish I had been there.

  3. a different Sean says:

    Sorry to hear that the venue had an unfavourable influence on many people’s time at the show (after reading the B&S forum on the show).

    I guess I lucked out. I saw the tour in Montreal last night. Great venue. (Massey Hallish with general admittance on the floor, the one problem being that the floor was flat rather than sloped as I have enjoyed at Usher Hall in Edinburgh – a Massey Hallian gen/adm sort of great place to see a show) It was centrally located. The sound was just fine (first time I’ve been there so I can say much about the sound quality other than saying that I was satisfied). All in all, enjoyable. First time I’ve seen the band and the crowd was well into it and the show was great.

  4. Frank says:

    yeah, a lot of people had a really bad time at the show and my heart goes out to them, but I personally had a good time. I think The Docks are pretty good for the first 300 people or so who get there. But shit for the other 2900.

  5. Robert says:

    Actually I think the venue reflects very poorly on the promoters, especially for $40 a ticket. I would suspect half the crowd actually had a positive experience and several hundred left throughout the course of the show. If you couldn’t find your way up front, then you were left with terrible sightlines and sound. An embarrassment, really. I was there a half hour before NPs played, but we were jostled and crunched the whole time, so we moved back some. A big mistake.
    Anyway, I would never go see another show at the Docks. Makes the Warehouse look appealing.

    Oh, and did anyone see the Fire Marshall and Cops walk through part way through the set? Can you say oversold?

  6. Matt says:

    I got there rather early becasuse the person I was getting a ticket off of wanted to be there early, so I had a decent spot up front. But wow was I crammed in tight, up until the last 20 minutes or so of the set I could barely move. But the band sounded/looked great!

  7. Guest says:

    Here’s the setlist from last night’s show in Montreal:

    1. The State That I Am In
    2. Another Sunny Day
    3. Seeing Other People
    4. Sukie in the Graveyard
    5. To Be Myself Completely
    6. Electronic Renaissance
    7. The Loneliness of a Middle Distance Runner
    8. The Blues Are Still Blue
    9. Piazza, New York Catcher
    10. Slow Graffiti
    11. Funny Little Frog
    12. Mayfly
    13. Your Cover’s Blown
    14. Dog On Wheels
    15. I’m A Cuckoo
    16. Jonathan David
    17. White Collar Boy
    18. Judy and the Dream of Horses

    19. String Bean Jean
    20. Sleep the Clock Around

  8. Chris says:

    Thanks for the review Frank. I couldn’t actually see the show (well, they did set up some TV’s near the back that made it feel like I was watching them on an episode of SNL from the early 80’s with a terrible camera angle and bright lights not tranlating well onto the screen). I honestly had no idea that they invited that girl up to sing with them again (which song was it?).

    Their set list was incredible, I do have that to say. So dissapointed though. I don’t even know if something as big as a My Bloody Valentine/Stone Roses/Ride/Smiths reunion show could get me to ever venture back to that place.

    Ok, that is taking it a bit far, but you get my point!

  9. rachel says:

    I cannot wait to see them. You’re killing me with your two-three weeks before me stuff. ARGH!

  10. elva says:

    frank, your photos are WONDERFUL! they really put a smile on my face. great job.

  11. Knox says:

    I had a ticket, and somewhere between leaving my house and lining up in the cold at the Docks I lost it. How shitty is that, I actually physically lost my ticket. No show for me…

  12. Matthew Berlyant says:

    Did no one else notice that in the New York Post article, they misidentified Sarah Martin as Sarah Adams? Oh well.I got disgusted before even reading the whole thing when I saw that. I don’t expect anything more from a right-wing rag that’s part of Rupert Murdoch’s Fox empire.

  13. Frank says:

    I did notice that and was going to comment on it but I thought perhaps she’d gotten married or something, I dunno. There are no band member credits in The Life Pursuit liner notes and that’s where my interest in fact-checking ended.

  14. Belle & Sebastian announce North American tour, return… | MP3 Music at MixBurner says:

    […] CoxI’d have gone to see them at the Sound Academy, where they last played in February 2006, even though they swore never to return there. I’d have gone to see them again at the Kool […]