Cactus festival | Half a party without the beauty and the beast

After Robert Plant and Alison Krauss canceled their Cactus Festival concert at the last minute, Belle and Sebastian had to save the furniture.

Twenty minutes before the concert by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, StuBru face Kirsten Lemaire came with a painful message: Krauss had the flu, the show of the former Led Zeppelin frontman and the American bluegrass chanteuse was cancelled. A big downer for the Bruges Cactus Festival, because the alliance between the beautiful and the beast was the concert of the opening night in the Minnewaterpark.

It was too late to look for a replacement, as compensation headliner Belle and Sebastian would start his set fifteen minutes earlier. This left a gap of two hours that the festival-goers had to bridge. The Cactus crowd was very polite. There was no beer throwing or booing, just a little more ambling, palavering, eating and drinking.

Wash away disappointment

“Have you had enough beer?” Stuart Murdoch asked as he took the stage with his companions. Was the Belle and Sebastian frontman not completely comfortable? After the Plant and Krauss concert he probably had to head the ball in, now he first had to wash away that disappointment from the audience.

Photo: Koen Bauters

The eight-member party did not let themselves be thrown off balance. The boy with the arab strap was thrown at the feet, with its cool organ, handclaps and jingling guitars it immediately warmed the audience. The flute solo spouted so much joie-de-vivre that Murdoch’s flared trousers began to flutter spontaneously.

That song was immediately such a nice cult hit that the Scottish group deals in. Belle and Sebastian was never at the forefront of either brit-pop or indie rock, the group remained a treat for lovers of bittersweet indie-pop. His first albums from the mid-nineties have since become highly coveted objects, but the band never managed to reach a wide audience with them.

Few sentences in Dutch

She’s losing it was another gem of his classic debut Tiger milk, once again fueled by a well-disposed acoustic guitar. Murdoch has a thin voice and sometimes had to fight for the high notes, but he made up for that with an extra dose of empathy.

The singer fully sought the connection with the audience. He greeted everyone with a few sentences of Dutch and told how ‘Piazza, New York catcher’ was about the budding love between him and his American wife. He put extra tenderness in his voice, and went to his knees dramatically. In ‘Sukie in the graveyard’, which multi-instrumentalist Sarah Martin created with melodica, he convinced everyone to dance.

On his previous record, Belle and Sebastian had taken a different tack, with more synths and disco beats. For the new A bit or previous the band was going to move to LA to work with successful producer Shawn Everett, but corona thwarted those plans. And so the group returned to its old, familiar mix between Northern soul and the up-tempo rhythm guitars of The Smiths.

Oohs with a lick flute

New stuff like Talk to me, talk to me went in smoothly, but it was still the warm trumpet and melancholy cello of hitje funny little frog who conquered hearts. Or the spicy Like Dylan in the moviesa song about the violent Glasgow of yesteryear where the androgynous Murdoch was beaten up for ‘not being manly enough.’

Cactus festival |  Half a party without the beauty and the beast

Photo: Koen Bauters

As soulful as it sounded poignant If they’re shooting at you, a new song about being lost and being grounded that had taken on a whole new meaning because of the war in Ukraine. “If they’re shooting at you kid, you must be doing something right,” Murdoch sang. Martin draped glowing ‘ooh oohs’ and a lick of flute over it.

It was the prelude to the final, in which the drums were turned on thicker and the synths pushed the guitars further away. Judy and the dream of horses benefited from a double recorder solo, I didn’t see it coming and sleep the clock around pumped up the pace one more time. ‘Make me dance, I want to surrender’, Murdoch sang much sharper now.

The audience was ready to obey that plea, but then the time was up, even an encore couldn’t get rid of it. All in all, this was not a headless night, but one in which the diaphragm was popped out. And that was not good either. Without the Beauty and the Beast it was only half a party.

Belle and Sebastian, seen on July 8 at the Cactus Festival (***)