The phrase ‘power move’ is usually associated with alpha males, big businesses and confident workers. It’s not normally one that comes to mind when discussing a band that are literally associated with the term “twee” and its ongoing usage within musical discourse. With that said: Belle & Sebastian opening their set at the Sydney Opera House with “The Boy with the Arab Strap” is a power move. There’s no other term for it – it’s a bold introduction to go with a signature song, one that is normally saved until the end of the set and usually gets one of the biggest ovations of the evening – moreso now than ever, on the eve of its 20th anniversary. To scale, it’s like Oasis opening with “Wonderwall.” As a standalone moment, it’s testament to expecting the unexpected as far as the Glasweigan collective are concerned – just when you think you have the answers, they change the questions.
With up to nine people on stage at any given time, Belle & Sebastian have less of a stage set-up and more a series of work stations. Only keyboardist Chris Geddes and drummer Richard Colburn stay in the same spot across the evening, as members do-si-do between synths, guitars, basses, keyboards, percussion, recorder and even violin or cello from song to song. Watching them work together in such quick succession and with seamless transitions is nothing short of impressive – deceptively simple, each B&S song requires a lot of different moving parts.
Frontman Stuart Murdoch loves to embrace his inner rockstar, if only for moments. He dances about the stage, daggy as you please, on “I’m a Cuckoo;” he grabs a wireless mic and heads into the stalls during “The Party Line” with all the joyful abandon of an Ellen segment. He’s backed on either side, for the most part, by his strongest counterparts: guitarist Stevie Jackson and multi-instrumentalist Sarah Martin, the latter of whom adds a gorgeous higher range and distinct lilt among the maximalist arrangements. If that wasn’t enough, however, Murdoch also brings out a literal giant of Australian music – The Go-Betweens’ Robert Forster, who saunters on-stage to lead the band through his own “Learn to Burn” and Orange Juice’s “Rip it Up.” It’s – you guessed it – another power move on the band’s behalf. Who knew they had it in them?
A huddle on-stage dictates the final songs of the evening, which is about as diplomatic as it gets. They go with two cuts from their beloved 1996 LP If You’re Feeling Sinister – “Judy and the Dream of Horses,” which closes the record; and “Get Me Away from Here, I’m Dying” which Murdoch notes is antithetical to how they feel about being in Sydney. Jack Black-esque naysayers be damned – Belle & Sebastian are a thoroughly impressive live band with an arsenal of songs that will always leave audiences wanting even more.