Belle & Sebastian Live at Somerset House: A Review

I’m going to keep this brief because I’ve reviewed B&S before and I don’t need to go on and on about them. To begin with, Saturday morning began with a hailstorm. It didn’t bode well for an outdoor gig. Thankfully, by the evening rolled around, the skies above Somerset House were nice and clear, the inevitably well-mannered B&S fans were milling about happily and Carling was raking in a huge profit with its new ‘two-pint’ plastic gigantic beer buckets (£7 each – they should be ashamed, but so should I for buying one). B&S was on top form, playing an extra-long extended set (nearly 2 hours, because one of the support acts, Devendra Barnhart , couldn’t play, so B&S kindly decided to go the extra chord) including impromptu covers of ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ and ‘Waterloo Sunset’ by Stevie (both excellent, though the Blue Suede Shoes cover was very slick – I think it wasn’t quite as impromptu as it seemed). Stuart was in an obviously good mood, much better than he was at their gig at Astoria a few months back, and he danced around like a loon the whole night, which is always good, as well as forgetting quite a few words during the set, which is also good for a laugh. It was one of those gigs that leaves you happy but not elated – they played all the hits and more, the audience was respectful and pleased to be there, but it wasn’t like the security guards had to break a sweat holding any of us back or anything (in fact, the woman working security at the front of the stage seemed to drift off half way through the night, staring blankly at the crowd and not blinking most of the time). Still, good choons, nice t-shirts, clear skies – I couldn’t have asked for more.

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Support act The Shins were… well, proficient, I suppose is the word. Lead singer James Russell Mercer has that always-straining-to-hit-the-note kind of voice – a bit XTC, a bit Men at Work and a touch of Talking Heads – but he also comes across as a bit touchy on stage (he had barely finished the first song when he turned to the soundman and fairly barked ‘Less bess! We need less bass!’). The trouble I have with The Shins is that every song they played was a bit like those ‘between’ songs on your favourite bands’ albums, the ones that aren’t quite as good as the other truly killer tracks, but are still passable and you can forgive them because the other tracks are absolutely solid. Except The Shins didn’t play anything that stood out. There were few shiny moments – the final track built up nicely and it’s always nice to go out with a big crescendo – but all in all, they were more forgettable than not. Oh well. Apparently there’s a poster or t-shirt of theirs in a recent edition of Spider-man, which is pretty cool, but otherwise…

I think it’s fair to say Devendra Barnhart would have been more memorable. Too bad.

7 Zesty Points out of 11 (minus one for the stage support thingy blocking my view of Stuart when he played ‘Boy with the Arab Strap’ dammit!)

By Zesty Pete, appeared originally on

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