Especially Pretty

the music of Belle and Sebastian

Belle and Sebastian. Not a duo at all, actually, but frequently described as an octet. Only that one of their Stuarts has been missing for some time. “Art-school types with no shortage of opinions,” sneers “Scott” on some random Web site. Well, Scott, you are evidently not short of them either. “The most perfect band in the world,” argues “Jerry,” in opposition. Do something pretty while you can, says Belle and Sebastian’s best line. Scott and Jerry could learn a lot by switching off their computers and pondering that for a second. Although the band members themselves evidently spend more time than is healthy online, as evidenced by their unnaturally pale faces (even by Scottish standards) and the copiousness of the Web site they set up in addition to that provided by their record company. They claim to sound like Nick Drake, The Go-Betweens, Orange Juice, Love, and Pulp.

But let’s get to some more tangible facts. Glasgow, Scotland—two Stuarts meet on a government training scheme, start playing, and acquire more band members. That they get their name out of a TV series (rather than the French novel the series is named after) may have disappointed a few of their burgeoning following of bespectacled students. A few good titles like “Dogs on Wheels” must, however, have placated them, and they end up playing at some chapel in Islington, which apparently was an important milestone. Later they would bring down another chapel in Greenwich Village (by accident, or else divine jealousy). A couple in New York names their kids after them. In the meantime they occasionally stress a bit. Eventually they end up playing at the Orpheum Theatre, Boston on May 4th. I’m there and I write this shortly afterwards (although I am listening to Cinerama as I do so, it has to be said).

One additional, important fact should be noted: namely, their tendency to lie for the sake (or beauty) of it. This was an early-onset tendency with first symptoms dating back to Tigermilk, on account of which CD I was first and happily fooled. Alas, it is simply not true, as the sleevenotes claim, that Sebastian met Belle, they loved each other in some way, and they formed this band.

It is very hard to tell whether they are good-looking or not (especially because they do not appear in most of their photos), which makes you immediately suspicious and gets you thinking that they’re probably as ugly as sin and want to hide it. But, then again, having been to the concert, I tend to think they’re not bad. But stages have this beautifying effect on people, apparently. It’s a status thing.

This Web site of theirs is more compelling than I would like it to be.

The band is waiting for Sarah (violin) to think of anything to write; she could not come up with anything at the time. Reassuringly, they’ll stick it up there when she does. Stevie and Stuart (guitars and vocals) seem a lot keener on the expressing-oneself front. I haven’t checked whether their thoughts and opinions overlap at all.

And then there’s this liking for top 10s and general cataloguing. Incidentally, the main character in High Fidelity (the only movie ever known to mention Belle and Sebastian—and even play them, would you believe) shared this tendency. The relevance of this observation is rather dubious, though. Now, are art-school types really into top 10s? Either way, it does help in life, I tend to think.

Belle, Sebastian, and the Press.

They made The Sun (a British tabloid newspaper that gave the world the topless “Page 3 Girl”) angry, which no doubt pleases them, if only for its post-modern value.

They typically don’t give interviews. Given the chance I’d ask them whether they prefer Bert or Ernie, and whether they think that sleeping without a pillow is cool. I would also like to play imagining famous people fat with them. Beyond that, an interview would probably not unearth any more interesting facts about them.

In any case, you generally listen to them in the absence of this random background of facts. Only then do you start your private investigation, which ultimately doesn’t surprise you or disappoint you in the least. So consistency throughout the process is generally guaranteed.

The concert, then.

Pretentious audience—bunch of cigarette-holding posers. I celebrated the world’s beauty eating a fast-food item in anticipation.

A paragraph for the support band—The Aislers Set. They’ve got a number of records out, but the best thing about them is doubtlessly their nice keyboardist. She always smiles and is very slender. Although she was very busy at the concert, playing the aforementioned keyboard plus several other random percussion instruments, she always had time to smile at other band members and to herself, which was nice. Other girls in the band seemed to enjoy dancing quite a lot.

Then Belle and Sebastian sang a bit. Complained about us sitting down, though they may not have minded it, really. Made us clap a lot, which was also quite nice. I think Stevie enjoyed singing his Spanish song. Isobel looked generally a bit bored. Stuart was Stuart; this much is true.

They asked whether there was someone famous in the audience. Because Kim Deal wasn’t there, they got some random Rachel to sing “Gigantic.” (Whether she is normally in a Pixies tribute band remains unclear. If so, she should work on their lyrics.) She sang, said it was pretty cool, and stated that she loves her boyfriend (whom incidentally we did not see).

We all then sang “Happy Birthday” to some sound engineer and Stuart played a transparent guitar for the occasion.

Other than that, many pretty sounds made by violins, cellos, and flutes.

In the encore, Stuart launched into a heavy metal cover of Dinosaur Jr.’s “Freak Scene.” He kicked over something while at it, though it may have been an accident. Why they left as Belle and Sebastian and came back as Dinosaur Jr. remains unclear. Similarly dubious is what happened after they left again as Dinosaur Jr.

Overall—pretty, pretty, pretty indeed. Certainly enough (if only for some). And yet a Google search for “Belle Sebastian shit” or “Belle Sebastian horrible” turns up many Web sites. There are too many “Scotts” out there. Bastards.

Finally, should you want to wish them “happy birthday” when the time comes, their dates of birth are also available online.