Belle & Sebastian
What To Look For In Summer
Live freaking music. It feels like it’s been forever since stepping into a sweaty venue, feeling the anticipation of the crowd as they are about to see their favourite band just a few feet in front of their eyes. The excitement is palpable. While this hasn’t been a thing for us for the majority of 2020 and maybe with the amount of time that has passed, most of us may have forgotten what that high actually feels like. But, here comes Glasgow’s favourite sons and daughters Belle and Sebastian with an amazingly rousing double live LP that is at once a reminder of the bands long, storied and consistent career as well as an homage to the reverence of live music. Recorded in a handful of cities on their 2019 World Tour, What To Look For In Summer, is peak B&S: charming, chiming and a testament to the simplicity of great songwriting and performing.
The 23 (!!!) tracks contained on the album aren’t just a taste of what it is like to see Belle and Sebastian live, but it’s almost, almost, like being at one of their shows. I won’t pretend to be super objective here. I’ve seen Belle and Sebastian a couple times in my life, with the last being on my birthday and even got pulled up onstage during their seven minute rendition of “Boy With The Arab Strap”, which is also featured here, and it was absolutely wonderful. You don’t have to break things down to figure out why it is so great to see this band live, even on this recording it’s right there in front of you. The full band, horn and strings sections, multiple singers, everyone playing their parts perfectly like the well oiled machine that they are but it is also the songs. The songs that Stuart Murdoch and company write are little bits of concentrated sunshine that just seem to burrow their way into your heart in the subtlest of ways that your fondness for them grow more and more on repeated listens. This being said, the album isn’t simply a greatest hits collection in a live setting. For a band with such a long and varied catalogue there is always going to be someone’s favourite that is omitted but that is maybe why this collection works so well as more of a testament to live shows in general.
The audience plays a major role throughout the album. While the band is technically perfect in their performance, hearing the cheers and screams of the crowd’s excitement, sometimes telegraphed and in their best moments, accidental, keep things moving at a reasonable clip. Kicking right into things with an infectious rendition of “Dirty Dreams Number Two” before hitting stops all throughout their career. 2017’s “We Were Beautiful” makes a surprise entrance near the top of the record with “Seeing Other People” from 1996’s If You’re Feeling Sinister making at least a handful of people in the crowd lose their minds with the clever introduction of “In the meantime, let’s explore some of the early sexual politics of some of the members of Belle and Sebastian.” and it’s all very fun. “Wrapped Up In Books” from 2003’s Dear Catastrophe Waitress is a definite highlight with it’s soaring harmonies and just one of the many tracks contained on the record that you can almost see the band members beaming at each other and the audience through your speakers.
It may be because we haven’t been treated to a proper live show in months that has made this double live album feel like such a thing of beauty. It may be because it’s been so long since we’ve shared that communal space with each other. Swaying as if as one to our favourite band as they conduct our emotions so easily. Joyfully swelling our hearts with love before stripping that away a second later to replace with melancholy. It may be, but it’s not. Belle and Sebastian are just this good of a band. One that can remind you of the times when all the above was possible and easily accessible and also one that gives us the optimism that it will all happen again soon. We need that optimism right now. It’s what I’m looking forward to this summer.