Gig review: Belle and Sebastian at Leeds Town Hall

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Belle and Sebastian have executed something of a velvet revolution over the last 20 years.

Without anyone really noticing the Glasgow six-piece have transformed from being so twee that even their tank top walked out on them to being a Euro-pop outfit with the rock star tropes of Coldplay.

This is nowhere more evident than on ‘The Party Line’, a ‘little disco number’ that’s accompanied by a stylish contemporary dance video, and ‘Piazza, New York Catcher’, during which band leader Stuart Murdoch goes ‘all Val Doonican’ and serenades the audience from atop the crowd barriers.

This is even before a dozen audience members are pulled out of the stalls to dance awkwardly on stage to set closers ‘The Boy With The Arab Strap’ and ‘I Didn’t See It Coming’, proving that while the band has embraced disco their fan base has the natural rhythm of a three-legged pantomime horse.

It’s nonetheless a joyful transformation that’s keen to honour their past victories, with the two-hour set stretching right back to the folksiness of ‘The State I Am In’ from debut album Tigermilk. The track shows that, while the band has changed stylistically, the basic hallmarks remain untouched.

This is namely the arch lyrical references to cultural objects, from the Alan Sillitoe-baiting ‘The Loneliness Of A Middle Distance Runner’ to guitarist Stevie Jackson changing the lyrics on the Talking Heads-esque funk of ‘Perfect Couples’ to reference the Kaiser Chiefs.

The introduction of disco beats also fails to mask the ongoing 60’s influence on the strongest tracks. ‘The Power Of Three’, on which keyboardist Sarah Martin sings lead vocals, could be drawn from a Saint Etienne album while ‘I’m A Cuckoo’, on which the underused four-piece local string section add flourishes, is a lazily strummed indie-folk ballad.

It’s also notable that while the band’s sound has grown more expansive and their popularity has held steadfast – recent album Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance got into the UK top ten – they’ve managed to maintain a bond with their audience.

This means that even on weaker tracks such as the Euro-trash ‘Electronic Renaissance’ they bring an unexpected delight to their material that will support them through their next musical revolution.

Gig date: May 17