Belle And Sebastian – Photo by Annie Lesser

Last night’s Belle And Sebastian show at the Santa Barbara Bowl was fueled by lead singer Stuart Murdoch’s charm as he repeatedly joked about the musky air, insisting a skunk must be underneath the stage. The audience was filled with a glee that transcended age, as tweens pressed against the barricade and white-haired couples bobbed their heads behind the sound board. Murdoch even started the evening by saying he couldn’t tell if the audience was mostly old fans or new fans, so he would just play a bit from all their albums.
Towards the end of their set, the band got a good chunk of the crowd to come up and dance on stage during “The Boy With The Arab Strap.” After a girl who’d been waving her arms Austin Powers-style asked if she could keep dancing, Murdoch and guitarist Stevie Jackson told all the dancers to stay put as the band played “Legal Man.” When the dancers were finally guided back to the pit, Murdoch said, “If that’s what today’s youth is like, we can be hopeful for the future.” He then apologized for sounding like “an old uncle,” but used the fact that he’s “a father now” as an excuse for such sentimental talk.
Although it was a great, warm show, there was one flaw to the evening: there weren’t enough people to share that warmth with. Because the Bowl is a music venue in a college town, it must be difficult to fill seats on a weeknight, when school is out of session. Half the seats in the house were empty despite the general admission pit being at capacity. This left the seated audience looking on in envy as those in the pit were able to push up against and dance with strangers, seeming to enjoy the music more intimately.
Before they walked off stage, Belle And Sebastian played “Judy And The Dream Of Horses,” dedicating it to the audience, the stars and the skunk. The group returned for a rousing encore with “Get Me Away From Here, I’m Dying,” during which multi-instrumental vocalist Sarah Martin passed around beach balls emblazoned with the band’s name. Murdoch laughed about how, in 1996, the band would never have imagined they’d one day have their own beach balls.
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