To the casual music fan, Belle and Sebastian are known primarily for two things: being the band that controversially nabbed the 'Best British Breakthrough' BRIT Award in 1999 (beating the likes of Five, Another Level and Steps in the process) and being, as frontman Stuart Murdoch wryly jokes on stage at Vicar Street, “that 'shy' band, only for listening to in bedrooms.”
While it's true that adjectives like 'twee' and 'fey' may have once blighted the Glasgow band, the Belle and Sebastian of today is a multi-limbed, living, breathing, pop music-making machine who simply want to make their audiences dance.
Yet the patchy crowd at tonight's gig – the second of two at Vicar Street, and the last of their European tour – aren't immediately in synch with Murdoch's famous hip-swivelling moves. It takes until the third song, 'Step Into My Office, Baby' to get reluctant feet tapping and heads nodding, while 'The Party Line' and 'I Want the World to Stop' sustain momentum amidst some of the newer tracks from their recent series of EPs 'How to Solve Our Human Problems'. Fans of the band's 2003 album 'Dear Catastrophe Waitress' had plenty of other reasons to be happy; although sprightly fan favourite 'I'm a Cuckoo' was missing from the setlist, the likes of 'Piazza, New York Catcher', a jaunty 'Stay Loose' and the title track all found a place in their ever-changing repertoire (neatly summarised with a succinct Venn diagram prepared earlier by keyboardist Sarah Martin and projected behind the stage.)
Fans of earlier material, meanwhile, were sated by a winsome telling of 'The State I Am In' and there's the usual stage invasion during 'The Boy with the Arab Strap' - after which Murdoch notes that many of the youngsters dancing between the instruments and amps “weren't even born” when he wrote the song; still, both the song and his (almost 50-year-old) voice continue to age like a fine wine. 'We Are the Sleepyheads' is a joyful experience and 'Judy and the Dream of Horses' brings a really enjoyable gig to a satisfying close.
The atmosphere may have let things down somewhat – but as far as the music goes, Belle and Sebastian remain a force to be reckoned with, 22 years on.