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Belle and Sebastian’s first KC show leaves lasting impression

Belle and Sebastian performed Thursday night at the Uptown Theater.
Belle and Sebastian performed Thursday night at the Uptown Theater. The Kansas City Star

For its first-ever show in Kansas City on Thursday night, the Scottish band Belle and Sebastian arrived as a small orchestra.

To gales of applause and cheers from a crowd of about 1,200, frontman Stuart Murdoch led a 12-piece band onto the stage of the Uptown Theater, one that included a string section, a trumpeter, several keyboardists and a drummer posted inconspicuously in a corner.

Their sound, at first, was loose and unkempt, but it eventually found a stable footing. A few times though, especially when the keyboards and synths outnumbered the guitars, the arrangements overwhelmed the rhythm section and the vocals.

Belle and Sebastian are touring on “Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance,” their ninth studio album. They opened with its lead track, “Nobody’s Empire,” a ballad that exports all of the band’s trademarks: Murdoch’s dainty voice and a lovely melody cast in a chamber-pop/folk arrangement.

From there, they jumped back more than a decade to “I’m a Cuckoo” from the “Dear Catastrophe Waitress” album, a pop tune with a jazzy swing and a fetching trumpet solo. Murdoch strapped on a guitar for that one but quickly (and inexplicably) shed it.

He has a charming persona. Before “The State I Am In,” a track that first appeared on the 1997 EP “Dog on Wheels,” he announced that he knew his geography, greeting the crowd as “Kansas City, Missouri.” Then: “I know what side of the river I’m on. We’re the Lewis and Clark of indie bands.” He showed he can pander, too, giving a shout-out to the Royals.

Murdoch relinquished lead vocal duties on two songs from the “Girls” album, both of which veered sharply from the band’s traditional indie-pop sound. Guitarist Stevie Jackson sang the groove-happy “Perfect Couples,” after Murdoch delivered a short speech on the band’s pecking order. A few songs later, multi-instrumentalist Sarah Martin sang lead on the disco-ballad “The Power of Three.”

The crowd stayed with the band on both of those, but clearly was there for the older songs, like “Piazza, New York Catcher,” a twee ballad that explores sexual identity via former New York Mets catcher Mike Piazza.

They ended strong and with some favorites. “The Boy With the Arab Strap,” a bubbly folk-pop number, aroused lots of dancing on the floor and on the stage, which was filled with fans.

A few people called for the title track to “If You’re Feeling Sinister.” Murdoch said they wouldn’t be playing that but he gave them another track from that album, setting off another gust of euphoria: “Judy and the Dream of Horses,” a porcelain folk-ballad steeped in the soul of Nick Drake.

The two-song encore included “Me and the Major,” another “Sinister” track, then “The Blues Are Still Blue,” a bouncy glam-pop tune that defies its title. It was an apt closer to a night that ended with the band and the audience applauding each other, a sign that this first-time show won’t likely be the last.

Courtney Barnett: The Austrailain singer-songwriter with a Chrissie Hynde/Liz Phair vibe is getting some radio airplay in Kansas City and it shows. A large part of the crowd was in place to hear her power trio perform songs they were familiar with, like “Avant Gardner,” about a near-death experience, and “Pedestrian at Best.”

To reach Timothy Finn, call 816-234-4781 or send email to tfinn@kcstar.com. Follow the Back to Rockville blog on Twitter @kcstarrockville.

Belle and Sebastian: Nobody’s Empire; I’m a Cuckoo; The Party Line; The State I Am In; Expectations; Funny Little Frog; Perfect Couples; Piazza, New York Catcher; (I Believe In) Travelin’ Light; The Power of Three; Allie; Women’s Realm; Dog on Wheels; The Boy With the Arab Strap; I Didn’t See It Coming; Judy and the Dream of Horses. Encore: Me and the Major; The Blues Are Still Blue.

Courtney Barnett: Elevator Operator; Lance Jr.; An Illustration of Loneliness; Small Poppies; Dead Fox; Avant Gardener; History Eraser; Pedestrian at Best.

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