Thursday, January 12, 2006

Belle and Sebastian / If You're Feeling Sinister: Live at the Barbican / Rating 9.1

Perhaps motivated by this long-simmering dissatisfaction with Sinister, the band chose to not only perform it as part of All Tomorrow's Parties Don't Look Back series-- in which an artist performs its best-loved work live in its entirety-- but also release the results as an iTunes-only charity record. (All proceeds from the sale of the album will go to the DEC's Asia Quake Appeal.)

Darn it! I was hoping there would be a Pitchfork review of the original studio version of If You’re Feeling Sinister but there doesn’t appear to be one. It's always fun to look at old ratings especially for a band who has reached the legendary status of "biggest cult bands in indiedom".

I did however find this on PFM:
Belle & Sebastian: The Boy With The Arab Strap[Matador; 1998] Rating: 0.8 - Review by: Jason Josephes

A .8 is a loooong way off from 9.1 and for a live record no less. A friend and I were just talking about how that makes The Boy with the Arab Strap almost three times worse than Morningwood. Yikes!

The ten paragraph B&S live review while a bit lengthy offers an incredible boatload of insight you won’t find very many other places but still one question loomed in the back of my head after I read it.

Didn’t this live record come out in early December?
Dec. 6th to be exact.

I can’t decide what sort of mixed message this sends. PFM will jump on reviewing a Boris import because they like the band and want capture the *now* “groundswell of interest but a classic mega indie band like Belle & Sebastian puts out a charity online only release and we finally get the review of it now…mid January*.

What deemed this release lack luster? The online only aspect? PFM and its writers aren’t into live records? B&S have a slipping following? A PFM news story on B&S is posted like once a month so this leads me to believe the latter is not the problem here.

Another point to be made about the PFM review is this: Ignore the buy at Insound or E-Music tagline (which yes I know appears on everything they review.)

This is an iTunes only release.

Back to the record at hand here, I have to be honest with you. I see the word LIVE next to a record title and I cringe. For the most part live records don’t curdle my cream and songs like "If You’re Feeling Sininster" with the sound of grossly out of time crowd claps remind me why.

Yes there is a charm to hearing old familiar songs redone by a favorite band live and in a new light and bands like Yo La Tengo apply this theory to all of their shows perfectly but there still seems to be something ironic about capturing a band live on record. A live show is just that, an action packed once in a lifetime happening. Your surroundings like the audience energy, the venue, the company you brought to the show all add to the experience but on record these nuances vanish and all one is left with is an often questionable production value and the inevitable over the top screamers of the crowd who on record sound a little like nails on a chalk board.

Some people love live records: those who never had the chance to see ______ play live, the crowd noises, the raw recording, and not so perfect performance but I couldn’t feel any the more opposite. Kiss, Frampton, Cheap These are some classics but they are still not my thing. To keep things a little more modern I would say the same thing about the recent Bonnie Prince Billy cd but its hard to type and cover my mouth as I yawn.

Anyhow it was a great relief to discover that all in all this live record has been edited down to a more studio like quality. Some folks will be be put off by a live record sounding so squeaky clean and audience energy free but this is Belle and Sebastian we are talking about here. A party vibe record would be wrong all wrong.

I am going to further discredit my review and coolness factor by saying I would take the Wedding Present or Cornershop over this band any day. I am all about the twee to be you and me jangle pop but live, in the studio, and rolled into one but I still can’t call myself a B&S admirer.

Regardless I respect the band for presenting this record to fans for charity sake not to mention how this release will keep their listeners happily distracted until their new record comes out in a month or so. Marketing tool and charity item, everybody wins.

One last point and I swear I will be done. I see that PFM has already reviewed two on line only releases this month (the other being the Pixies). For whatever reason music journalists / most music publications tend to avoid writing reviews of these download only releases so this most recent rash of attention to them either means the times they are a changin’ or that online only labels and releases finally have a decent publicists. It doesn’t take a psychic to predict that we will see an increase of these virtual record releases in months and years to come so maybe this was all just a matter of time.

*In all fairness PFM did run a news story late November telling readers about this charity cd and the release date so I guess you can’t have it all.