Nostalgia act or no, Belle & Sebastian pen songs that conjure specific thoughts of specific people and specific places. Ask a fan where they were when they first heard “Piazza New York Catcher,” and you’re guaranteed to get a story rife with sweet, wistful details. On stage at the Santa Barbara Bowl on Wednesday night, Belle & Sebastian delivered a lengthy and sonically spot-on set that touched on all the bases; we got oldies like “The Stars of Track and Field” and “Judy and the Dream of Horses” all the way through newer cuts like “I Can See Your Future.” More importantly, though, the band managed to transform the venue’s 5,000-seat breadth into a setting that felt as intimate as a house show.
Leading things off on Wednesday was the one-two punch of “Judy Is a Dick Slap” and “I’m a Cuckoo.” Backed by six supporting musicians, the septet appeared both relaxed and unassailable, and by the time they landed on the richly symphonic “Dirty Dream Number Two,” they seemed to hit their stride, expertly making space for the horn and string swells to work their magic.
On the second half, frontman Stuart Murdoch got personal, launching into the crowd during “Your Cover’s Blown,” then inviting a throng of fans onstage to dance to “The Boy with the Arab Strap.” For a band that’s made a career out of soundtracking Big Deal life events, it’s tough to imagine a live show that lives up to the recordings, but B&S have found a balance that manages to elevate even the oldest, most cherished cuts in their catalog.
1. “Judy Is a Dick Slap”
2. “I’m a Cuckoo”
3. “Le Pastie De La Bourgeoisie”
4. “The Stars of Track and Field”
5. “Dirty Dream Number Two”
6. “To Be Myself Completely”
7. “Lord Anthony”
8. “If She Wants Me”
9. “Piazza, New York Catcher”
10. “I Can Your Future”
11. “If You’re Feeling Sinister”
12. “Your Cover’s Blown”
13. “I Don’t Love Anyone”
14. “The Boy with the Arab Strap”
15. “Legal Man”
16. “Judy and the Dream of Horses”
17. “Get Me Away From Here, I’m Dying”