It was a hot, sticky and buggy Thursday night at the first Twilight Concert series performance of the summer, but that didn’t stop the citizens of Salt Lake City from streaming into Pioneer Park in droves to see Blitzen Trapper and Belle & Sebastian.
I arrived in time to catch the tail end of Blitzen Trapper’s set, as the setting sun turned the sky a beautiful rosy color, but as soon as I heard them, I wished I had been there from the beginning. The Portland, Ore.-based experimental country/folk had a lot of homey Americana happening, which I always dig, but their music is intriguing and deserves repeated listens. I added them to my mental “must-listen” list to check out in more depth later.
Belle & Sebastian warmed up with an instrumental piece before launching into “I’m a Cuckoo,” a heartsick but upbeat-sounding tune from 2004’s Dear Catastrophe Waitress. The band’s orchestral indie-pop sound, with their trademark violin and trumpet, was fuller than usual this night, since they recruited some additional guitarists and violinists who played behind the rest of the band. Frontman Stuart Murdoch was charming and friendly, engaging the audience between songs. “It’s beautiful here,” he said. “I had no idea!”
They also played gorgeous renditions of “Another Sunny Day” and “To Be Myself Completely” from 2006’s The Life Pursuit, “Expectations” from debut album Tigermilk, and “I Want the World to Stop”—with a cool guitar solo from Stevie Jackson—from their latest album, 2010’s Write About Love. Murdoch’s voice was spot-on, and he and vocalist/violinist Sarah Martin sounded adorable when they harmonized together. Martin also busted out some great solo vocals for “I Didn’t See It Coming,” during the chorus “Make me dance/ I want to surrender.”
Some of the many highlights of Belle & Sebastian’s set were when they played “Dylan in the Movies” from 1996’s If You’re Feeling Sinister, and during “The Boy With the Arab Strap” when Murdoch invited some of the more enthusiastic dancers at the front of the audience to come up onstage to show off their skills. When they all huddled in a group together with Murdoch and he got them all to snap along to the beat, he laughed and said, “It’s like Footloose or something!” The dancers stayed onstage during “Legal Man,” too, keeping the impromptu dance party going, and Murdoch said they were the best dancers the band had ever had.
Toward the end of the set was my favorite moment of the night, when Belle & Sebastian played Sinister’s “Judy & the Dream of Horses,” which has become my most-loved song by the band. Something about the combination of that joyful chorus, the hopeful lyrics and that killer trumpet line just sings to my heart, and I had a little “OMIGAH BELLE & SEBASTIAN!!!!!” inner freak-out fest while I danced along.
After an encore of “La Pastie de la Bourgeoisie,” Murdoch wished the audience farewell by saying, “God bless the Stars & Stripes!” And that’s when the only not-so-great part of the night happened: During the mad dash to the seemingly limited amount of exits, the huge crowd couldn’t fit through the small gates and got stuck. As the hum from the hundreds of people rose to a discontented, angry buzz, some braver folks started climbing over the fences. I was very relieved when the crowd finally spilled into the street. But the night was otherwise great, and I walked back to my car humming “Judy & the Dream of Horses.”
The next Twilight Concert Series performance is on Thursday, July 25, with the Flaming Lips and CSS.
All photos by Audrey Rotermund