Concert review: Belle and Sebastian deliver nostalgic indie pop at The Tabernacle

It did not go unnoticed by Belle and Sebastian lead singer Stuart Murdoch Wednesday night that there was a Georgia Dome full of screaming girls playing less than a mile from The Tabernacle, where his own band was playing.

“Do you think there’s a kid that’ll wander in here thinking that they’re going to see One Direction, and think, ‘Oh, it’s my worst nightmare, my dad’s onstage!'” Murdoch said. The joke, along with a look around the room at the faces in their 30s and 40s, served to drive home the point — this was going to be an evening of grown-up music, for grown-ups.

But nobody ever said adults can’t have fun on a school night, and for about 90 minutes, the members of the Glasgow outfit imbued their twee pop with a high-energy bounce that any boy band member would do well to take notes on.

The Tabernacle served as the perfect venue for the band to make their return to the Atlanta stage after a 10-year absence, large enough for fans to groove a little during more uptempo numbers like the jangly “Photo Jenny”, but small enough to give numbers like the sweet “Piazza, New York Catcher” an intimate, coffeehouse feel — in fact, Murdoch sat on the edge of the stage during the song as the audience quietly sang along.

The group’s six full-time members were joined onstage by seven more musicians, including a four-person string section, that gave songs like “Allie” and “I’m a Cuckoo” a nice orchestral feel, and the solid horns on “The Stars of Track and Field” were clear and strong.

With so many moving parts, the group could have at times veered off the rails, but they never did — they functioned as a 13-person, well-oiled machine, complete with Stevie Jackson’s guitar and harmonica and Sarah Martin’s violin and dreamy backing vocals on a setlist that was filled with old favorites and a couple of new selections (“Perfect Couples” was particularly good) from the album “Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance,”set to be released in 2015.

That album was recorded over the past year in Cabbagetown, produced and mixed by Ben H. Allen, who’s also worked on albums from Gnarls Barkley and Animal Collective. The members of Belle and Sebastian clearly had a good experience in Atlanta (“It’s good to be back home,” Murdoch said), and got to know the city pretty well — he said they miss visiting the Beltline and even got in on the Turner Field debate (for the record, they don’t understand why the Braves are moving to Cobb County).

Murdoch, with his warm-cup-of-tea vocals, porkpie hat and charming, I-know-I-can’t-really-dance-but-I-don’t-care moves is as charismatic an indie pop frontman as you can ask for. Any man who can strap on a keytar with his head held high, as Murdoch did on the ’80s-tinged “Enter Sylvia Plath,” is the type of man who clearly likes to have a little cheeky fun.

To that end, Murdoch turned “The Boy With the Arab Strap” and “Legal Man” into an onstage dance party, inviting about 15 extremely excited fans up to bop along, including one guy who did a series of arm windmills and air guitar moves. Murdoch gave them each a hug as they left the stage at the end of “Legal Man,” proving he’s a lead singer for the people.

The group left the stage with a lovely, lilting version of “Get Me Away From Here, I’m Dying,” on which Murdoch encouraged the crowd to sing along and returned a few minutes later with an encore of “We Are the Sleepyheads” and “Me and the Major,” nice choices to wrap up the night but which left you wanting to hear many of the classics they didn’t play (“I Want the World To Stop” and “Step Into My Office, Baby” were missed).

A band that’s been around since 1996 clearly isn’t going to be able to get to everything, which made the hope that it isn’t another decade before they return to Atlanta even stronger (hopefully next time without the screaming tweens down the street).

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