Live Review: City Arts Festival… Belle & Sebastian @ Benaroya Hall and Gogol Bordello @ Showbox SoDo 10/20

photo by Steven Dewall

Belle & Sebastian @ Benaroya Hall

The lines to buy a six-dollar Heineken or a ten-dollar martini made it almost impossible to get through the lobby of Benaroya’s symphony hall. After a set of melodramatic and somewhat lethargic songs from Trashcan Sinatras with questionable lyrics (“people who fall in love / feel like I’m one of them”… what?), people were more than ready for a heavy dosage of Stuart Murdoch charisma and upbeat Belle & Sebastian indie-pop.

Murdoch has this rare ability to carry on a conversation with himself and make it interesting for hundreds of people. During some minor technical difficulties three or four songs into the set, he spoke of solidarity in the (sunny!) weather between Glasgow and Seattle and spoke of his goldfish who is a baseball fan. Dressed in a black blazer (which he discarded soon in to the show) and black top hat, he led the audience through select songs from all 15 years of Belle & Sebastian’s discography. It seemed as though he knew people were expecting B&S to play old favorites, which they did in the likes of “The Boy With the Arab Strap,” “Get Me Away From Here, I’m Dying,” and “If You’re Feeling Sinister.”

Several songs in, Murdoch commented on the stage, “There is so much space I don’t know what to do with it!” Well, he shortly thereafter found the answer in his dancing, something he was more than adept at, charmingly entertaining to watch. Sporadic dancers popped up in the seated Benaroya Hall, eventually leading to everyone catching the dancing contagion that Belle & Sebastian songs seem to have on people, and finally escalating in Murdoch running down into the aisle to pick nine girls to dance on-stage with him.

The string section, a four-person ensemble, were a pleasure to watch but had a more minor role in the performance than I would have liked, mostly introducing songs and filling in behind the band for a more layered and full sound. Moreover, I thought the volume levels on the strings could have been turned up just a bit, seeing as we were in a symphony hall and all. The highlight of the night occurred when Murdoch pointed out a section of dancers and declared, “I’m going to need make-up for this song.” He then proceeded to sit on the edge of the stage and have several fans put make-up on him, further encouraging the warm and intimate atmosphere that the night had already invoked.

Belle & Sebastian photos by Steven Dewall:

Gogol Bordello @ Showbox SoDo

I rushed to SoDo on my bicycle as fast as I could after the Belle & Sebastian show, arriving around 11pm during “Start Wearing Purple,” a crowd favorite and perhaps the song that Gogol Bordello is most known for (my housemate just said “Gogol Bordello… isn’t he the guy that sings “start wearing purple wearing purple, nanananana?” “Yes, yes he is.”) This song is off of their 2005 release Gypsy Punks: Underdog World Strike, an album the band seems still quite attached to judging from the performance backdrop choice, the album cover (and a great album it is). “Start Wearing Purple” ended with full house-lights on as the crowd, led by violinist and rabble-rouser Sergey Ryabtsev (dubbed “professor of rock&roll by front man Eugene Hütz), sung at the top of their lungs, fists in the air.

I saw Gogol Bordello in 2008 in Vancouver, B.C., so I knew roughly what to expect from the live show: dancing, water bottles being thrown, beer being shaken up and sprayed on the crowd, wine bottles in metal pails, a Scottish woman with cymbals, a sailor dude with a violin, a guy beating the shit out of marching drum, and the shirtless and moustached Eugene Hütz, orator and singer with an irresistibly entertaining Ukrainian accent. Needless to say, I am surprised at how much I remember from the Vancouver show seeing as I had had one or two drinks preshow. The general desire to party and the atmosphere created by Gogol Bordello is enough to get any audience riled up, and opening night at Seattle’s City Arts Fest was no exception.

For one reason or another, Gogol Bordello only played five or six songs in the last 45 minutes they had allotted for their set, almost all of it involving one or more band member being backstage. This included a ten-minute band introduction ceremony led by Hütz and a five-minute intermission of sorts, during which a recorded circus-type version of “Do Your Ears Hang Low” played. The set also ended 15 minutes early. Why this happened is not clear, but the audience, many who were more than adequately wrecked, didn’t seem to mind one bit. Neither did I, especially when Hütz slow-motion walked to his guitar and led an acoustic version of “Alcohol.” Fewer instruments are so beautifully played together as an acoustic guitar, plucked violin, and accordion. As the crowd filed out of Showbox SoDo, many were either riding high on the energy that Gogol Bordello brings to a venue or too drunk to care, both quite acceptable and enjoyable options.

Gogol Bordello photos by Dave Lichterman:

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  1. Chris Rasmussen
    Posted October 26, 2010 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    Michael Beck’s review was spot on, articulate and super well written – I really look forward to more from him – except for the fact that I feel TERRIBLE for missing B & S…it is a super relief to read an aesthetically written review for once!

  2. Eric Puro
    Posted November 2, 2010 at 7:10 am | Permalink

    Great review! I wish I could have seen Gogol!

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