Sunday, June 10, 2018

"Militürk" / "Kebabträume": A Brief History


Back in 2007, I bought Fehlfarben's debut album, Monarchie und Alltag (1980), and enjoyed it so much that it was one of the first albums I ever reviewed on this blog. The review might be just a bit naïve, but thankfully some commenters with better knowledge of the era and environment provided some deeper insight. One song on the album always stood out to me: "Militürk", a song with not many lyrics and a cauldron of bizarre and paranoid imagery. In the spirit of my review of "Blaue Augen" by Neonbabies and Ideal, I'd like to go into the details of this song a bit deeper, mostly with links to better-informed bloggers. A word of warning, though: all of the links are in German, just like the song.

An important detail that I didn't mention in the review was that Fehlfarben weren't the first band to perform and record the song. They weren't even the second. As mutanten melodien explains, the song was first recorded by Mittagspause, with lyrics by Gabi Delgado-Lopez while he was still a member, before he co-founded D.A.F. (Deutsch-Amerikanische Freundschaft). The music was supposedly originally inherited from a song by Charley's Girls, whose members Franz Bielmeier and Peter Hein took the tune with them when they formed Mittagspause. Hein brought the song to Fehlfarben just after Delgado-Lopez brought it to D.A.F. under the title "Kebabträume" ("Kebab Dreams"). The blog also mentions several other later versions, including a remake by D.A.F. (inferior to the first version), a spoof by Xao Seffcheque & Die Pest titled "Fortschrittsträume" ("Dreams of Progress") that turns the song into a joke about the contemporaneous German indie/punk music scene, and another spoof by O.R.A.V. (actually Xao Seffcheque and Peter Hein) in a mock-singer-songwriter style. Countless other cover versions abound. (Check out mutanten melodien to hear all of the above versions and more.)

I went into what I took to be the meaning of the song in my Monarchie und Alltag review, but I'd like to expand on that with the assistance of some more intelligent perspectives. I translated some of the lyrics myself, but for a complete version (side by side with the original), see here. In interviews, Delgado-Lopez dodges questions and claims that the song speaks for itself. Since the song may appear racist or anti-immigrant at first glance, that's a dangerous decision. However, he also does not hesitate to speak out on issues of social and economic justice.

In an interview with taz.de from 2010, Delgado-Lopez explains that the song was written during a trip to West-Berlin in 1979 to play at a punk festival at SO36 in Kreuzberg, but he says little else about the song itself. Instead, he speaks out about the exploitation of the Third World by western nations and espouses a decidedly pro-refugee stance. When the interviewer asks why Delgado-Lopez usually leaves out two of the lines when he sings the song now, he responds that he prefers to write about larger connections, not just day-to-day politics, without explaining what made the two lines in question any different than the rest.

In an undated interview with Dearly Demented, Delgado-Lopez sidesteps a question about provocation and shows little concern about his songs being misinterpreted. He does mention that fascist skinheads would occasionally turn up at D.A.F. concerts, particularly in England, leading to arguments and the composition of blatantly homoerotic songs like "Der Räuber und der Prinz" ("The Thief and the Prince") to troll them. He again mentions the backstory of when the song was written, and adds that he was never upset or jealous about Fehlfarben's version. While there was no specific agreement or understanding about it, he also says that wasn't necessary, and the copyright situation was handled correctly and fairly. He again speaks about immigration, declares it inevitable, and notes that as one group integrates and assimilates, the reactionary fears shift to the next new group to arrive.

In "Protestsongs von Punk bis HipHop" from fluter, Ulrich Gutmair writes that the song was a skillful satire of pre-existing stereotypes and fears. The humor lies within the confusion and combination of resentment towards Turkish immigrants and paranoia about communism and the Eastern Bloc. Gutmair also claims that the song was one of the first punk songs to be sung in German. That isn't entirely true, but it was still early enough to be a novelty. The article also discusses Advanced Chemistry's 1992 single "Fremd im eigenen Land" ("Foreign in One's Own Country") and compares the two songs.

By far the most detailed exploration of the song was undertaken by Barbara Hornberger for the Songlexikon in 2016. She goes into great detail about the first D.A.F. version of the song, picking apart every detail of the music and lyrics. She notes that the manner in which Delgado-Lopez delivers the song is staccato, militaristic, unusually emphasized, and rather androgynous. The lyrics are fragmentary and describe an atmosphere rather than a specific event. She also points out that Turkish immigrants were rare in East Germany at that time, so the juxtaposition of the DDR, the Soviet Union, and Turkish immigrants "behind barbed wire" creates irrational vision of terror and confusion. It simultaneously also speaks to the ghettoization of Turks in West Germany, both in the sense of their marginalization due to their migrant background as well as the physical situation of the sizable community in Kreuzberg. The titular "kebab dreams" are presumably the dreams of prosperity hoped for by the immigrants.

The crux is in the final line: "Wir sind die Türken von morgen" ("we are the Turks of tomorrow"). On one hand, it pairs with the preceding line, "Deutschland, Deutschland, alles ist vorbei" ("Germany, Germany, it's all over") to form an exaggerated picture of conservative fear of losing national identity. On the other hand, Hornberger posits that the final line can be seen as a commentary of or antithesis to the rest of the text. It may represent a shift in the authorial perspective. Or is it implying that the "we" (West Germans, presumably) will soon be infiltrating and spying into other countries?

I'm hard-pressed to say whether the Fehlfarben version or the original 1980 D.A.F. version is my favorite. Both have a richness and complexity that are lacking in the rough, punky Mittagspause version or the later, more direct and simplified 1982 D.A.F. remake. Fehlfarben managed to push the punkiness to its borders with a groovy bassline, funky guitar, and squawks of saxophone. D.A.F., in their original five-piece formation, emphasized the electronics and made an unsettling soundscape. Both of these versions express an alienation and eeriness that match the lyrics.

Thanks to Jochen for the mutanten melodien link and the Czech for introducing me to the music in the first place.

P.S. And for something completely different, Stereogum has a great article about the unusual #1 single by the Singing Nun from Belgium in 1963. Be sure to check out the awesome/ridiculous synthpop remake from 1982!

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Thom Yorke / Oliver Coates - Live 2018.06.01


Having been a long-time fan of Radiohead, it might go without saying that I have also tracked Thom Yorke's solo career. Although his various side projects have never quite matched his work with Radiohead, he has always been an interesting figure to follow.

Artist: Thom Yorke
Venue: Tempodrom
Location: Berlin, Germany
Date: 1 June 2018
Opening Act: Oliver Coates

Setlist:
01. Interference
02. A Brain in a Bottle
03. Impossible Knots
04. Black Swan
05. I Am a Very Rude Person
06. The Clock
07. Two Feet Off the Ground
08. Amok [Atoms for Peace song]
09. Not the News
10. Truth Ray
11. Traffic
12. Twist → Saturdays
13. Pink Section
14. Nose Grows Some
15. Cymbal Rush

First Encore:
16. The Axe
17. Atoms for Peace
18. Default [Atoms for Peace song]

Second Encore:
19. Spectre [Radiohead song]

Oliver Coates is the principle cello with the London Contemporary Orchestra and thus performed a key role on Radiohead's A Moon Shaped Pool (2016). He opened his solo set with a beautiful traditional piece apparently specifically requested by Thom Yorke. Thereafter, however, he stuck to his own material, which can, in various forms, be described as cello with electronic beats, cello with sorrowful synth, and cello with guitar effects. The latter was the most successful: in the best moments, Coates worked with tones reminiscent of My Bloody Valentine. The downbeat synth tracks were respectable, but perhaps too subdued and restrained. The beats did nothing for me.

Thom Yorke came out with his regular collaborator Nigel Godrich and visual artist Tarik Barri. Godrich has produced Radiohead and Yorke since 1995 and is/was a member of Atoms for Peace. Barri has been collaborating with Yorke for several years now, including on the "City Rats" installation for the ISM Hexadome.

It is unclear exactly what material this tour was intended to focus on; Yorke's last album was Tomorrow's Modern Boxes in 2014. However, since 2015, he's been slowly introducing new songs into his sets, leading some to suspect that a new album is in the works. At this show, he played seven or eight unreleased songs (depending on whether you count "Saturdays" as a unique song) but only five of Boxes' eight tracks. In addition to two songs from Amok (2013, with Atoms for Peace) and four from The Eraser (2006), the biggest surprise was "Spectre", Radiohead's rejected James Bond song.

The show opened on a high note with Yorke sitting at a keyboard for the gradual lead-in to "Interference". After that, he mostly stuck to guitar, bass, and electronics. Godrich mostly stuck to his spot behind a laptop and a stack of electronics, but he also picked up the bass on occasion and sometimes walked over to Yorke's set-up to manipulate something while he was elsewhere. I also caught Godrich adding some heavily processed backing vocals.

The new songs largely followed in the mold of Tomorrow's Modern Boxes: dark, murky electronics with Yorke's wispy, sporadic, manipulated vocals. Any hints of guitar or bass are blended into the mix such as to make the provenance of the sound difficult to determine with certainty. Yorke's beats tend to be unusually punctuated and subtly complex. The sound is primarily electronic, and the rhythm is important, but it's not strictly dance-oriented. There's something vague and obscure about his music that makes it difficult to put your finger on or label conveniently.

The older songs ended up being the predictable highlights simply by virtue of being more deliberate, melodic, and clear. Yorke's politics have always been fairly easy to read if you take the time to listen, but he made that easier in the songs on The Eraser, where the songs have more traditional verse-chorus structures and the lyrics are (relatively) easier to follow and understand. His more recent material tends to be less explicit and more free-flowingly structured.

Barri's visuals ran the gamut of forms and patterns that one could imagine accompanying modern electronic music. It's a good strategy for someone as low-key and reserved as Yorke to have such a strong and varied visual component, because it certainly helps make the scene more interesting. However, Radiohead have always had a great stage and lighting set even when they could get away without it, so Yorke is presumably no stranger to these sorts of considerations. This is why I was a bit disappointed by the "City Rats" installation: I had expected more, and thankfully the visuals at this concert were quite a bit better. The style was substantially different and much more active. Barri didn't seem to follow the rhythms too closely, but the energy with which the visuals moved and developed matched the varying intensity of the music.

While I appreciated Yorke's sense of adventure in trying out so much new material, I didn't find it particularly engaging. His music is enjoyable, but hard for me to focus on. I often found myself drifting and distracted despite my best intentions and legitimate interest. At times I found myself more focused on the visuals than on the sound. Some people tried to dance, but the unusual heat and the humidity of a rainstorm dampened and exasperated the mood of the audience. Yorke's solo work doesn't provide much to hold on to, and the show felt wilted and formless as a result. "Spectre" was quite another matter, but without any accompaniment to the piano and vocals, it too felt robbed of its power.

Scores:
Oliver Coates: C-
Thom Yorke: C+
Tomorrow's Modern Boxes: C-
Amok (Atoms for Peace): C+
The Eraser: B-

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Johnny Marr - Live 2018.05.21


I've been waiting for a chance to see Johnny Marr since his comeback in 2013. For some reason I've since forgotten, I missed my chance to see him at Fun Fun Fun Fest in 2013, which was the only time he played somewhere I was living. After the initial hesitation of having to deal with Ticketmaster, I gave in and bought a ticket.

Artist: Johnny Marr
Venue: Festsaal Kreuzberg
Location: Berlin, Germany
Date: 21 May 2018

Setlist:
01. The Tracers
02. Bigmouth Strikes Again [originally performed by The Smiths]
03. Jeopardy
04. Day In Day Out
05. New Dominions
06. Hi Hello
07. The Headmaster Ritual [originally performed by The Smiths]
08. Walk into the Sea
09. Getting Away with It [originally performed by Electronic with Neil Tennant]
10. Bug
11. Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me [originally performed by The Smiths]
12. Easy Money
13. Boys Get Straight
14. Rise
15. How Soon Is Now? [originally performed by The Smiths]

Encore:
16. Actor Attractor
17. Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want [originally performed by The Smiths]
18. New Town Velocity
19. There Is a Light That Never Goes Out [originally performed by The Smiths]


After years of collaborative projects, Johnny Marr's debut solo album Boomslang (2003; credited to Johnny Marr + the Healers) was lackluster and hasn't aged well. Marr tends to ignore it, perhaps deservedly so, and prefers to count his albums starting with The Messenger from 2013. It's a respectable album with a refreshing burst of energy and enthusiasm, even if the second half doesn't hold up to the first. This was followed quite rapidly by Playland (2014), which mostly followed in the same vein, albeit less successfully. Adrenalin Baby, a live album from 2015, was rather unexciting except for the Smiths songs, "Getting Away with It", and "I Fought the Law". Marr then took a break for a couple years. He hasn't yet released his new album, Call the Comet, but the two advance singles are telling: "The Tracers" picks up where Playland left off, and "Hi Hello" is a moodier number with a guitar line that quotes from "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out".

The concert was just about what I expected: a bunch of new songs, a few cuts from recent albums, and several classic Smiths renditions. The new songs were decent; a few were noticeably dancier, the singles were particularly strong, and a couple were a bit dull. It was a lot of new material, but it didn't wear me down. However, I was surprised that they only played three songs from previous albums. The Messenger had a number of songs that I would've gladly seen on the stage.

The Smiths songs (and "Getting Away with It") were the natural highlights. None of the choices were a surprise (except for maybe "Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me"), but they were all executed with skill and taste. They played the songs fairly conventionally, with Marr singing with Morrissey's meter and melody, but without his flair and whimsy. In each case, the songs were slightly extended or rearranged to emphasize the instrumental guitar jams.

As always, most of Marr's instrumental breaks weren't necessarily what you would call a solo. He didn't bother with any wailing or shredding. He focused on melody, emotive phrases, atmosphere, crescendoing energy, and interplay with his bandmates. (These are the marks of a truly skilled guitarist!) Instead of aggression and pure showmanship, he worked with mood and texture. This has been less obvious in his solo work, but still present. When he plays the Smiths songs live, it's an impressive sight and sound to behold.

His backing band was solid, even if they mostly kept to the background. It's the same crew that appears to have been backing him since 2013: James Doviak on guitars, keyboards, and backing vocals; Iwan Gronow on bass and backing vocals; and Jack Mitchell on drums. The backing vocals were a nice touch, but they rarely tried anything as fanciful as harmony. Doviak's guitarwork was occasionally indistinguishable from Marr's, although he never took a solo. He mostly played the strummed or jangling patterns that underpin the songs, but he regularly committed the unnecessary sin of using an acoustic emulator with his electric guitar instead of just playing a proper acoustic guitar. The band used samples for some parts, although thankfully not for "How Soon Is Now?" (as far as I could tell!).

Marr's recent solo albums were hailed as returning to his classic style, despite that in reality they sound more similar to the Britpop and alt-rock that was inspired by The Smiths. There's less subtlety, less acoustic guitar, more dance-oriented drums and production, and a thicker layer of sound. The bass and drums, while not without their moments, lack the finesse and delicate interplay of Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce. Marr's vocal style is not particularly similar to Morrissey's, and he thankfully doesn't try to copy it. Lyrically, he clearly has ideas, although he doesn't always find the best means of expressing them.

Both Morrissey and Marr initially declined to play Smiths songs after the breakup of the band, and both also seemed to consciously move into other styles. Morrissey slowly let Smiths songs back into his repertoire in the mid-90s and 00s, but Marr waited until 2013 to play them again. While Morrissey has had his ups and downs over the years, Marr has kept a steady pace, albeit less prominently. His years of consistent hard work may be paying off. In light of Morrissey's worsening public stature and meager recent albums, Marr seems to have become the proper heir to the Smiths crown at present.

[Making use of the disco ball for "Getting Away with It".]

Scores:
The concert: B+
The Messenger: B
Playland: C+
Adrenalin Baby: C

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Tarik Barri & Thom Yorke / René Löwe & Pfadfinderei - ISM Hexadome 2018.04.07


Installation: "The P!eace" and "City Rats", ISM Hexadome
Artists: René Löwe & Pfadfinderei, Tarik Barri & Thom Yorke
Venue: Martin-Gropius-Bau
Location: Berlin, Germany
Date: 7 April 2018

Despite being less than impressed by Brian Eno's installation at the ISM Hexadome, I returned again to the space to see what Thom Yorke and his partner in visual arts, Tarik Barri, had to offer. I came just as their installation was ending and thus just in time to catch the other team's work in full.

[Pfadfinderei's asteroids and lemon wedges.]

Pfandfinderei's visuals were nothing revolutionary, but they were fun and they certainly looked cool. They used three projections, each duplicated once. They started in a space setting before descending into an impressive cloudy region. That eventually cleared up to reveal a colorful moon-like landscape with occasional bursts of what looked like sliced lemon wedges. This was followed by a rather cheesy space city, a brief section of even cheesier graphs and charts (disappointingly not even synced to the music), and then a return to asteroids and space. While there was nothing unpredictable besides the lemons, most of the imagery simply looked great.

[Pfadfinderei's space city.]

René Löwe's music was well-suited to the visuals. The style was fairly conventional faux-futuristic or pseudo-space-age electronica. There was a steady beat throughout and warm washes and pulses as befit the imagery. The music maintained a fairly regular energy level throughout, although there were a few dips during transitions and a loud swell near the end. Their installation lasted about 20 minutes, and I could've gladly absorbed more.

[Tarik Barri's light beams.]

Tarik Barri and Thom Yorke started out much slower and lower-key. Barri's visuals were initially almost completely dark with only occasional spreads of yellowish light. Occasionally, a brief snatch of Yorke's face would appear. This may have been hampered by the fact that it was daytime and some light come in from outside, but there wasn't much to see. The switch to 90s screensaver-style colored light beams didn't help. After what seemed like a long time, things finally started to pick up when multiple copies of Yorke's face started appearing, often smeared and distorted by clouds of smoke. These effects were far more interesting than the rest of the visuals, but they didn't last long before being replaced with less exciting closeups and manipulations of Yorke's face. This gradually faded back to the initial light spreads and eventually into darkness.

[Tarik Barri's replication of Thom Yorke's head with smoke effects. This was the best my phone camera could do; it looked significantly better in person.]

Yorke's music was similarly minimal for most of the installation. It started with sparse synth lines and simple repeated vocals phrases such as "in your headlights" and "I woke up with a feeling that I could not shake". While I thought the former might have been an allusion to Yorke's 1998 collaboration with Unkle, "Rabbit in Your Headlights", this was not pursued any further. Around the same time the visuals were building up, the music followed suit, with a bit of an actual beat and a more intense layer of vocals and cold synth lines.

Their installation lasted about 30 minutes and felt slow. I can appreciate a build-up, but I don't think that's quite what they were going for. I liked that they used all six projectors independently without repeating, although there was so little going on for most of it that they still felt underutilized. Yorke's music also took advantage of the web of speakers around and above the installation. While Eno's music sounded mono and Löwe's seemed to have just a slight sense of space, Yorke played around with throwing his voice around the sound stage. Combined with Barik's six-projector visuals, it made for a much more immersive experience. Unfortunately, that still didn't quite make up for the less exciting elements of their presentation.

Scores:
René Löwe & Pfadfinderei's "The P!eace": B
Tarik Barri & Thom Yorke's "City Rats": C+

Monday, April 2, 2018

Brian Eno - Empty Formalism, ISM Hexadome 2018.04.02


Installation: "Empty Formalism", ISM Hexadome
Artist: Brian Eno
Venue: Martin-Gropius-Bau
Location: Berlin, Germany
Date: 2 April 2018


The Institute for Sound and Music is a new organization in Berlin devoted to honoring the creation of electronic music and sound. Their first large project is the Hexadome, an installation featuring six projectors and a network of speakers for which a series of artists have created unique works. Brian Eno's "Empty Formalism" is the first installation for the Hexadome. It opened on March 29th and runs until April 5th.

Eno's installation consisted two gradually changing visual patterns, each repeated on three projectors, and characteristic minimalist ambient music. The projections were mostly colorful concentric circles with subtle texture, occasionally interspersed with thick, straight bars. Close study revealed a minor lack of symmetry between the right and left sides, but this may have been unintentional. There was a hint of a line at about two-thirds the way up the projectors that was also presumably unintended. Otherwise there was little to discern. The music consisted of long, low drones, high-range tinkles, and occasional rumbles and washes. There was no beat or melody.

Eno described the work as meaningless by design, asking the audience to appreciate the visuals just for what they are, as is usually the case with music, as opposed to trying to "understand" the work, as is typically expected with visual art. While the notion is valid, the practical implication leaves something to be desired. I sat for an hour in a room with fifty other people, all staring blankly or appearing to meditate. There was nothing distasteful or offensive, but little to pull me in or hold my attention. It would've been pleasant or peaceful or even escapist if I could've erased my awareness of everyone around me. As it was, it was merely a mostly quiet, oddly lit, slightly awkward space that made for merely passable contemplation.


Score: C-

Further Reading:

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Tour of Tours - Live 2018.03.02


Artist: Tour of Tours
Venue: Lido
Location: Berlin, Germany
Date: 2 March 2018

The Tour of Tours is an ambitious and appealing concept. Supergroups such as Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young might be an influence not just in terms of genre and style, but also in format. In this case, five bands based in and around Germany teamed up for a tour in which the various performers served as each other's backing band. The ten musicians traded instruments just as readily as they traded songs and almost all sang backing parts and harmonies when not taking the lead.

The bands whose various members were on stage were Honig, Jonas David, Tim Neuhaus, Ian Fisher and Town of Saints. While they all share a certain foundation in singer-songwriter, folk, and indie rock traditions, they all have their own angles and styles, which makes for a diverse presentation. Presumably not every variation will appeal to every listener, but over the three hours of the show, they covered a lot of ground. Some songs leaned closer to modern rock, some had a bit of an electronic edge, some were straight folk numbers, some were in the realm of acoustic pop, some had country overtones, and most fell somewhere in the wide spectrum called indie rock. And then there was Ryan Thomas Carpenter's hilarious/bizarre lounge number presumably titled "Is That All There Is?". Almost everyone in the collective took the lead at some point, even the quiet Italian drummer Davide Iacono.

The band played two lengthy encores. For the last one, they jumped off stage and played their one collaboratively written song, "Song of Songs", in the middle of the audience without any electric amplification. The crowd was at the ready to share the vocals in the chorus. Afterwards, the band climbed back on stage for one last number, an extended take on Ian Fisher's existentialist singalong "Nothing". It was a fitting end for a long show that featured a variety of perspectives on the meaning of life.

When the show was over and I realized what time it was, I couldn't believe that three hours had passed. The rotation of performers and styles meant that the show always had something new to keep my attention, so the time passed by without my noticing. It's hard to beat seeing five solid bands in a unique formation for the price of one show.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Belle & Sebastian / Jane Weaver - Live 2018.02.17


Artist: Belle & Sebastian
Venue: Admiralspalast
Location: Berlin, Germany
Date: 17 February 2018
Opening Act: Jane Weaver

Setlist:
01. Nobody's Empire
02. I'm a Cuckoo
03. We Were Beautiful
04. Expectations
05. Step Into My Office, Baby
06. Sweet Dew Lee
07. Sukie in the Graveyard
08. Piazza, New York Catcher
09. I'll Be Your Pilot
10. I Don't Love Anyone
11. The Same Star
12. Show Me the Sun
13. Dear Catastrophe Waitress
14. The Boy with the Arab Strap
15. The Party Line
16. Like Dylan in the Movies

Encore:
17. Judy and the Dream of Horses
18. I Want the World to Stop

Despite the 7:30 start time listed on my ticket and on the venue website, opener Jane Weaver came on stage right at 7pm. She played some keyboards and was backed by a guitarist, a drummer, and a variety of preprogrammed synthesizers. Her style was heavily indebted to classic-era Stereolab, with a propulsive, snare-heavy rhythm and a trance-like shimmer. However, the music suffered from an oddly hampered energy, perhaps inflicted by a poor mix. The guitarist was nearly inaudible in most songs, and the low end was sorely lacking. A strong bassist would've given the songs a major boost. Weaver, despite being difficult to understand, was a strong vocalist, and the drummer was captivating, even though he lost three drumsticks during the last song.

[Jane Weaver. I wasn't able to get any pictures of Belle & Sebastian, but they don't look that much differently than before.]

Belle & Sebastian started with the moving opener of their last album (Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance), "Nobody's Empire", again accompanied by the same type of YouTube-style slideshow as when I saw them last in Austin. They proceeded to alternate songs from their new EPs and classic tracks with a heavy emphasis on Dear Catastrophe Waitress (2003). The first deviation, "Sukie in the Graveyard" was the groovy success that it always is. However, "Piazza, New York Catcher", again played in a low-key full-band arrangement, remains an oddly overrated number in their catalog. (Seriously, why is that song the most-listened-to song by the band on Spotify? Is it just because it appeared on the Juno soundtrack?)

The band played five songs from the new EP series, more than most nights of the tour, yet still nothing from the last of the three, despite its release the day before the show. The new songs fit the mold of the band's modern style without advancing the bar too far. In fact, due to my relatively unfamiliarity with them, I briefly confused several with older songs. The melodies and arrangements felt familiar, which isn't to say that the songs aren't good, but most of them are interchangeable with their last couple albums. The exception was "Show Me the Sun", which prominently features an annoying "na na na" vocal hook, making it memorable for the wrong reasons.

The core six members of the band were again joined by Dave McGowan on guitar and bass; Sarah Willson on cello, keyboards, and flute; and CJ Camerieri on trumpet. All three also added occasional percussion. With nine people on stage that were generally all audible and clear, Belle & Sebastian must have a superb sound crew. The harmonies were consistently on point, and even the flutes were skillfully equalized and emphasized enough to be prominent and distinct.

"Dear Catastrophe Waitress" was introduced with a picture of the waitress in question, seemingly the same woman gracing the cover of the album of the same name. Stuart Murdoch recalled getting hit in the face with a pie by her at a show in Berlin circa 2002. He said he was sure that she was in the crowd again, and just as the song started, a woman that indeed looked very similar to the two pictures climbed on stage and danced with the band.

The same woman stayed on stage for "The Boy with the Arab Strap", and as per tradition, Stuart invited about a dozen audience members onto stage to dance with the rest of the band until the end of the set. "The Party Line", one of the best tracks from their last album, was given a strong showing, as was the classic "Like Dylan in the Movies".

No one was surprised that they came back for an encore, and after Stuart asked for requests from only the women of the crowd, they treated us to two more of their best. The superb "Judy and the Dream of Horses" was apparently the first thing Stuart heard. "I Want the World to Stop", the best track off Write About Love (2010), garnered a large number of shouts and was duly honored by the band.

The band managed to walk a fine line between the orchestrated folk of their early days and the well-produced, synthesizer-heavy pop of their recent work. They made them fit together as if they always belonged together, joined seamlessly by Stuart's wit and a large cast of talented performers. I miss the stronger emphasis on the string parts, but the flutes were still solid, and I'm also a fan of keyboards. By this point in their career, they perform as a well-honed unit. They performed songs from across their 22-year catalog nearly flawlessly. There was hardly a weak moment to be found, and even their least impressive songs are still far from bad.

Scores:
Jane Weaver: C+
Belle & Sebastian: A-

P.S. Thanks to Alyssa!