Reviews

Lifted or The Story is in the Soil....

Author: Phil Gallo
08/24/2003 | Variety.com | www.variety.com | Live Show Preview
Much as the Scottish act Belle & Sebastian has borrowed every accouterment of 1960s adult pop, they don't use them to create a very wide emotional range. Enjoyable as their catchy brand of pop music can be, its pep and earnestness begins to wear down all but the most enthusiastic head-bobbers after a few hours. Show had its delightful moments and execution of the material was flawless, but Belle & Sebastian prove there can be too much of a good thing. Perhaps their next tour, on the heels of their first Rough Trade album (due Oct. 7), will bear more varied fruit.

Their music -- cute, clever, playful and even precious -- boldly wears the marks of its forefathers, specifically Burt Bacharach, Herb Alpert and, to a lesser extent, Jimmy Webb. The trick of the trade most prominently used is the single trumpet over a violin quintet. Their choice of a '60s cover, Bacharach-David's "My Little Red Book," was quite telling: Rather than appropriate Love's more driving and better-known version, B&S kept it in line with the Manfred Mann original as heard in the film "What's New, Pussycat." B&S always opt for the soft treatment.

Not every approach to their influences, though, is the same. At times, they wholly assimilate those '60s touches and take a few steps beyond the Smiths' similar pop tactics, and elsewhere they line up two sides of influences and let them duke it out. New tune "Step Into My Office, Baby" -- the only one in Sunday's set --poses the question, What if the Beach Boys were a British Invasion band? The wonderfully executed "The Boy With the Arab Strap" is the rare tune in which all the '60s touchstones are wholly pulled in to make something new and brilliant -- a tactic they could stand to try more often.

Opener Bright Eyes, led by Nebraskan Connor Oberst, is also a stage-filling big band (eight pieces). Oberst writes stream-of-conscious songs that, regardless of how they start, end with a repeated chant -- "on and on," "ready or not," etc. -- that's consistently fueled by anger and bitterness. Underneath the banging and screaming, the band provides the weep of a country rock band from the early '70s, and they generally do little more than drown out Oberst's heartfelt observations. His songwriting is often in need of an edit, yet when he performed two songs solo, he appeared more in focus.


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