Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Belle & Sebastian | Metropolis | Feb 26th | UPDATE

Sometimes it's fun to catch a hot new band with a hot new album. Other times, it's fun to see an old favorite with a large familiar catalog. On Sunday night, it was the latter as jds and I went up to Montreal to catch Belle & Seabastian and The New Pornographers at Metropolis.

The drive up was uneventful except for the new questions from the Canadian border police. The new questions were:

When was the last time you were in Canada?
How much money do you have on you?
What do you do for a living?

Rather personal questions, don't ya think? I dared jds to tell the border guard we were going to see some new pornographers in Montreal but his better sense prevailed and he just told the guy we were going to see Belle & Sebastian. As usual, the guard just shrugged and said, "Huh. Never heard of 'em."

I had spent the afternoon at the Vermont Flower Show with the kids which left me with visions of spring dancing in my head. Those visions got completely smashed though as I stepped out of the car in Montreal. It was cold, cold, cold with a strong wind. I only had a fleece since I didn't want to deal with coat check so it felt pretty rough and certainly not like spring.

By the way, I have to applaud the Canadians for their use of mass transit and willingness to walk in such weather. We parked in a lot across the street from the theater and, despite there being over 2,000 people in the theater, there were only about two dozen cars in the half-filled parking lot. That ought to make the city planners happy.

Back in December, jds and I had missed about 20 minutes of Calexico's set because we had arrived a little late for the show. Knowing that, we quickly woofed down some pizza and headed into the club. We got there at 8:05 for an 8:00 show and The New Pornographers were already playing. Damn! Those Canadians are prompt! Say what you will about the Germans but they have nothing on our neighbors to the north. And, it's not just the venue, because all the fans were already there too. The place was packed. We got there five minutes late and the best spot we could get was in the last row of the balcony. For Arctic Monkeys and The Spintos, I'm geting in there well before the show.

I'm fairly new to The New Pornographers. I got Twin Cinema over Christmas (Thanks, Tom) and it's grown on me. There are a lot of good tunes on the album and the diverse range of sounds they throw at you keeps the album fresh. Unfortunately, in concert, they lose a lot of that diversity. The songs all seemed to have gone through some sort of "calssic rock sausage grinder" and came out sounding the same. Having said that, I still enjoyed hearing "The Bleeding Heart Show" and "Sing Me Spanish Techno". Good tunes.

Metropolis is another old large theater that's been renovated for concerts. The balcony is huge holding about 500+ people. Being in the last row of that balcony though gave us a very distant view. So, between bands, we headed down the steps on the side towards the front of the balcony. That dropped us at "stage right" about 25 feet back from the stage. Considering the size of the crowd, it was a pretty good spot to catch B&S.

On the way down the stairs, jds noticed that the door to the VIP balcony was open so he popped in. When he didn't return, I went back up and stepped in myself. It was a pretty good view of the stage and crowd. Nobody was bothering with us so we just hung out for a while hoping that B&S would start before anyone kicked us out. Unfortuantely, just before they came out, the "balcony police" came by to ask jds who he was. He said he was a guest. "Of who?" asked the guy. "Of the venue" replied jds. Aren't we all guest there, right? It didn't work. We got booted. But it was OK because we were able to largely get our spots back down on the floor; maybe just a little further back.

B&S took the stage and burned through one of the best openings I've heard in a long time. They started with "The State I Am In" which I never expected to hear. They then went into "Another Sunny Day", "Seeing Other People" and "Sukie In the Graveyard". I love all of those songs and the new tunes sounded great live. The album versions are very good but B&S played up their rock'n'roll side with the concert versions.

The huge crowd was packed with hardcore B&S fans. With just the first two notes of a song, they would erupt with screams, clapping and cheers of joy. It was fun to be among such an enthusiastic crowd after seeing so many hipster crowds that remain emotionally distant from the band during the show. Lots of pot waffing through the crowd. Basically, they're a bunch of stoners who have their shit together to get there on time; unlike us.

The only time I had ever seen B&S before was almost a decade ago at The Supper Club in NYC. B&S frontman Stuart Murdoch has changed a lot since that show. I remember him being very shy and timid. It seemed he was trying to just be a part of a broader ensemble. He certainly didn't seem comfortable in the spotlight. However, on Sunday night, he was "Mr. Belle & Sebastian". He was relaxed, outgoing, happy, charismatic, self-effacing, joking with the crowd, etc. Perhaps it was the departure of Isobel and Stuart David that pushed him to accept that it's his band and he's the main man. I don't know but it added a lot to the show.

At one point, to sing "Piazza, New York Catcher", he even felt comfortable enough to pull out a sheet with lyrics after admitting he had forgotten the words. At another amusing moment, he pulled a $20 Canadian bill out of his pocket and asked if he could buy anything from the folks in the front row. He said they were leaving for Boston right after the show and the money would go to waste if he couldn't buy something right then. He talked to a few people and then stopped, pointed to a guy in the front row and said "Hey, aren't you the drummer from The New Pornographers? What are you doing down there?" The drummer from The New Pornographers seemed like a bit of a nut during their set so I wasn't completely surprised he was in the front row for the show. But it was still a funny moment.

The rest of the show was packed with a bunch of songs from The Life Pursuit (particularly the first half of the album) along with "Mayfly", "Judy And The Dream Of Horses", "String Bean Jean", "Dog On Wheels" and a rocking version of "Sleep the Clock Around". It's always fun to go to a show where you know so many of the songs that are played. It's like wearing an old broken-in pair of sneakers. Nothing particularly edgy but fun and comforting.

The crush of people trying to leave after the show made me very happy there wasn't a fire during the show. Most of us would have been cinders. It was packed and difficult to move on the way out. The one last bonus of the show was that we were across the Pont Champlain by 11:30pm. When you have a long drive back, it's nice to get going a little earlier than normal.

By the way, as always, I apologize to the art of photography for my crappy photos. I really need to upgrade to a better camera. The Canon Powershot A40 is just not cutting it. Thankfully, jds has a bunch of nice shots up on Flickr. However, I don't know where that slacker's show review is. Ha!

UPDATE: jds now has his show review up. Also, a fellow named Jim in Burlington was also at the show and has some nice photos from the other side of the venue on his site. His shot of the crowd gives a good idea of the number of people and how packed it it was.


Anonymous said...

I just caught The New Pornographers in Madison without Case or Bejar. As much as I love their material, it did have a cover band feel without those two.


K. said...

Hey Murph. Just FYI but your blog is showing up a bit wacked out on my computer. Maybe its just me but it appears that the "Top 5 Bands Last Week Among Last.FM Vemonters" is bumping your posts down.

Neil said...

Thanks for the review! I was so excited when this got announced, and double bummed when I realized I couldn't make it. The pictures and your blog post though are a great help.