Belle And Sebastian

Philharmonic Hall 19/3/18

Now, it might be an idea to write about this in the past, because that’s what it was even in the present. It’s what it was on this night at the Phil, but more to the point it’s how it always looked and sounded. Name a point where BELLE AND SEBASTIAN didn’t live on their own time? But it’s hard to nail what that is and how, because they place ‘it’ in a tense all of their own.

‘It’ was there from the opening credits of first track Act Of The Apostle, in the scene setting of its unfolding chord changes. ‘It’ was there in the internal commentary of I’m A Cuckoo, the predicament of She’s Losing It and the screenplay of Wrapped Up In Books. Between them, a series of episodes that could be watched later or before, in any order. ‘It’ being intrepid reporting of stories rather than portals for our discredited fantasies.

The themes from 1996 and all that have been told, but then came act two: stepping out of the margins. That’s what their millennial years seem to have been, all the more so the further you step back, maybe factoring in, like this intrepid reporter, a decade-long B&S blackout that gave the sensation of an unheard history of pop as if it was happening now (in the past) for the first time – which was really something. Not the old seen now, but now as an instant past. How did it sound, even with fresh ears? At its best, always behind you. So, we received from Sweet Dew Lee a memory of the best pop of childhoods that hadn’t happened; not a copy of it but akin to the first past-tense record of it. Then the vivid character sketches of Judy And The Dream Of Horses and, before it in the past, Seymour Stein, which couldn’t have been anything but B&S’s singular grown-up rearview. Which, in all cases, you never saw happening.

‘It’ was there in the verse of The Stars Of Track And Field that began in the pack then jostled for position between chords before finding a clear line and, to the roar of the grandstand at a homecoming nod to “Liverpool and Widnes”, striding clear, triumphant, still some 800 metres from home. And all along, the lighting’s glows of mustard-yellow, teal, scarlet and pigment green have anchored ‘it’ in televised glory years. Talking of which, The Boy With The Arab Strap still had – as always, as it did in Teachers – that bittersweet credits-rolling feel. Maybe it’s that instant school-days nostalgia that says it best, because so much of this set reaches you like the longed-for yet all-too-short final term. In this reunion of songs, the characters may now have quit painting or waitressing, but on this wondrous night at the Phil they’ve the same essence you first knew.

And you wished physical versions of all your friends through the eras were here. You wished any future descendants were here. You wished your parents were here, and theirs. You wished some of your bosses, foes, landlords, customers, barbers and so on were here. You wished the girls from school were here. You wished absolutely everyone, anytime, were here.

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