17 songs— one for each year Belle & Sebastian have neglected to play Pittsburgh during their prolific career, until now. On a warm Saturday night, Stuart Murdoch brought his troupe of Scottish musicians (I counted 13 in total: four string players, three multi-instrumentalists, two keyboardists, drums, bass, guitar, and Murdoch himself) to Stage AE outdoors, with the audience packed to hear just how the band would translate its immaculately arranged twee-pop to the stage.

Amazing well, as it turned out. Over two hours, Murdoch played the ultimate bandleader, introducing each member individually and telling jokes and stories between each song (excitedly listing off all the Pittsburgh facts he memorized pre-show). Because it was the first time they gave a concert in the Steel City, Murdoch declared that, rather than just playing the hits or the new material, the band would perform a survey of their material. In fact, more songs stemmed from their 1996 debut Tigermilk than from their most recent album, 2010’s Write About Love.

And despite the fact that the three songs I most looked forward to hearing live were ignored in the set (Dear Catastrophe Waittress’s title track, opener “Step Into My Office, Baby,” and closer “Stay Loose”), it was impossible to pout when B&S brought out their personal favorites to share with the crowd. “I Want the World To Stop,” an odd but energetic tune from WAL, turned into an extended jam, contrasting brilliantly with “Lord Antony,” a slow, melancholy number performed just two songs after. “Lord Antony” should receive special mention as one of the highlights of the night, beautifully done with the full force of the strings and horns at Murdoch’s disposal. Benefiting from the best audio balance I’ve heard at Stage AE, B&S perfectly translated their fleshed out instrumentation, their more laid back songs receiving just as much attention to detail as their crowd-pleasing, upbeat ones.

And even before Murdoch invited a large handful of audience members to dance onstage for two numbers (“The Boy With the Arab Strap” and “Legal Man”), the concert reached its true pinnacle for a wild and extended performance of “Your Cover’s Blown,” an obscure Talking Heads-goes-disco track from 2004’s Books EP. When the song hit its “Barracuda”-esque tempo jump, Murdoch jumped into the pit and wandered among the crowd, fireworks exploding in the background. And no, that last part wasn’t exaggerated— the Pirates game just next door ended in a victory and a large pyrotechnics display, possibly as a result of B&S’s full rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” earlier.

A successful night all around. Unfortunately, I failed to catch the opener Yo La Tengo, the famous Hoboken trio whose album Fade is one of my favorites so far this year, due to extenuating circumstances that also resulted in the lack of photographs of the night.  But between Murdoch’s infectious good nature, dance moves that even David Byrne might envy, and the clever and bright music of his band, Belle & Sebastian more than made up for that, and their long absence from the town, and every other gripe you could possibly have. I can’t wait to see them the next time they're able to make it to Pittsburgh— when I’m 35.




Belle & Sebastian concert Stage AE Yo La Tengo

It's been a week now since my last dose of Gov't Mule and I am still content.  As a longtime fan I had gone to the show with a touch of apprehension.  This would be my first time seeing the Mule since the departure of recent bass fixture, Andy Hess.   The Kinder Revolution tour, which runs through a two-night stand at the Fillmore in San Francisco on November 22nd, is Jorgen Carlsson's first trip out with the group.  I confess to not digging up any info on the man, because I didn't want to form an opinion before hearing him live.

This was my first trip out to the Carnegie Music Hall of Homestead and I have to say that I am thoroughly pleased with this venue.  Dig this:  once inside you can actually leave the venue and re-enter.   Let me repeat that.  This venue has no code against re-entry.  I was dumbfounded by this.  It seems every venue in town refuses to let you go outside and catch a breath of fresh air or take a little walk around the block if the mood strikes you.  Some venues are even charging you to get a wristband so you can take a cigarette break (without naming names, I'm looking at Carson Street on that one).  The absolute freedom of the venue was refreshing.  The two bands performing within it even more so.

Back Door Slam, a blues-rock power trio from the Isle of Man, who fit perfectly with Gov't Mule's sound opened the night.  It's easy to see why Warren Haynes and company chose them to open.  They have the same spirit and level of talent of the early trio version of Gov't Mule.  They must have played a thousand notes and each one of them was the right note.  I'm looking forward to the next Pittsburgh show from this group.

I do miss Hess's dirty rock 'n roll groove, but was not disappointed by Carlsson's playing.  The band came out fired up with a rendition of Black Sabbath's "War Pigs," despite the one-song absence of Danny Louis on keys.  Then they jammed on their own composition "Painted Silver Light" from their debut disc.  The set covered a lot of ground, but had a definite early-Mule bent.  They reprised "I Think You Know What I Mean" (from Life Before Insanity) into Zeppelin's "When the Levee Breaks" back into "I Think You Know What I Mean" like they did at their Byham Theatre show a few years back.

In the second set, after a nice leisurely walk around the venue of course, "Temporary Saint" was another highlight.  Warren's voice had that cool Southern ache that only his guitar could match for emotional force.  A few tunes later the band left Matt Abts to stun the audience with ten+ minutes of primal drumming.  He rocked his first solo with sticks, his second with mallets, and his third with his bare hands.  The theatre went nuts.  The band's encore saw the return of Davy Knowles of Back Door Slam trading solos with Warren on the Muddy Waters tune "Champagne & Reefer" and Cream's "Politician".

To me the evening's two sets played out like a sweet long road trip.  I'll most likely be picking this up from Mule Tracks and playing it in my car religiously.  Now I just need a destination...

reprinted from

Set 1
War Pigs Trio-without Danny Louis
Painted Silver Light
A Million Miles From Yesterday
Slackjaw Jezebel
I Think You Know What I Mean->
When The Levee Breaks->
I Think You Know What I Mean
No Need To Suffer
I Shall Return
Lay Your Burden Down
Little Wing

Set 2
Get Behind The Mule
Temporary Saint
Left Coast Groovies

Champagne & Reefer with Davey Knowles
Politician with Davey Knowles


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awesome blues Carnegie concert Gov't Mule groovy guitar Homestead rock
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