There’s that one song that when it begins, when the first notes hit your ears, your heart stops for a millisecond and you’re taken back to the place you were when you heard it play for the first time. It’s a wave of emotion, both beautiful and bittersweet, that is wrapped in your heart, and as the song ends, each beat in your chest counts down the farewell of those memories until the next time. That feeling was what Belle and Sebastian gave fans last night at the Bomb Factory.
When the opening band, Men I Trust, started their set, the room was filled with less than a hundred concertgoers, still buying their drinks and finding the right spot to stand. The set was a light and sweet one, an easygoing mixture of songs that beckoned the audience closer to the stage with a slightly jazzlike arrangement. The crowd slowly grew, but as the Montreal-based band said its goodnights and left the stage, there was still ample space in the venue.
As the screen behind the stage lit up with black and white images and Belle and Sebastian took their places for the night, a crowd that didn’t exist five minutes before pushed forward with a cheer. The stage was washed in red light, and lead singer Stuart Murdoch looked over the crowd with a sly and confident smile. Bandmates Sarah Martin and Stevie Jackson flanked Murdoch, and the start of their first song brought silence to the audience.
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By the time they started their third song, the frenetic “We Were Beautiful” from their most recent trilogy of EPs, How to Solve Our Human Problems, people in the crowd were bobbing their heads in flawless synchronized fashion. The audience was an eclectic mix of ages and styles, gray hair and khaki shorts alongside pixie bobs and retro dresses accompanied with matching hip glasses. They might have little to say to one another once stepping outside the confines of the Bomb Factory, but for the hour and a half that Belle and Sebastian were onstage, they were unified. For those 90 minutes, the faces of fans said it wordlessly perfect: Everyone was just damned happy.
When Murdoch finished “We Were Beautiful” and said, “Thank you so much for having us,” the crowd erupted with the bottled-up emotion born from the upbeat arrangements. Murdoch didn’t yell or try to get a pop from the crowd for saying, "It’s great to be in Dallas!” He spoke to the fans and listened to their responses. He was the appreciative guest thanking his hosts for their generosity.
As Murdoch put on his trench coat and started to sing “The Fox in the Snow” from If You’re Feeling Sinister, the room went silent. Everyone knew the words, and no one would dare sing along to risk missing a moment of Murdoch’s soft but strong Scottish vocals.
In honor of Father’s Day, Murdoch sang, “I’ll Be Your Pilot,” a song inspired by his 5-year-old son. It played like a lullaby you watched a father whisper to his son as he tucked him into bed, promising endless protection and love.
Although a majority of Belle and Sebastian’s set was songs from the newest collection of EPs, the band performed the ultimate fan service by inviting audience members to dance onstage as it performed arguably its most famous hit, “Boy With the Arab Strap.” The stage was filled to capacity with band members and fans celebrating the song, the body of work and the privilege to see the other side of a rock concert, even if for only a few songs.
When Belle and Sebastian came out to play their encore, they chose “The Stars of Track and Field” and “Another Sunny Day,” to the roaring approval of the crowd.
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And when “Another Sunny Day” started, there was that skip of the heartbeat. That moment where your throat closes and your chest tightens with memories of where you were when you first heard the song. Maybe it was a cheap boombox in a dorm room as you thumbed through a textbook. Maybe it was a friend forcing an earbud on you with a demand you listen now, or maybe you heard it as your teenage years came to a close, and the promises and mystery of adulthood were laid out before you to be discovered.
When those notes hit you for the first time in years, you remember all the fear and doubt and worry of the years to come but also the hope of what could be — that hope that anything is possible and will happen because you’re invincible. When you hear the song years later, you’re not teary-eyed because those feelings are behind you, but rather, they’re just as strong, albeit a little more well-hidden.
Murdoch at one point in the night said he tells his son that “love is the best you can give someone.”
A damn close second is hearing that one song.