Dream Setlist: Belle and Sebastian

Dream Setlist: Belle and Sebastian

For this week’s Dream Setlist, Andrew from Brooklyn takes you deep into the discography of a band that’s very, very special to him: Belle and Sebastian. With a quarter-century of gems in their discography, picking will be hard, but quality is assured. Grab your tartan trousers and dust off your dancing shoes, it’s twee time:

Belle and Sebastian (B&S) have been an integral part of my life ever since I was 18 and I found a copy of If You’re Feeling Sinister for two bucks at the Housing Works store on Brooklyn’s Montague Street (RIP.) The Glasgow-bred icons of indie weren’t a band I could honestly say I’d thought about exploring for most of my youth; my time was already occupied by Metallica, Smashing Pumpkins and other aids for adolescent angst. But I’d certainly heard about B&S, and what I’d heard was good.

The earnestness in their witty yet sincere lyrics gripped me immediately. Halfway through my first listen of If You’re Feeling Sinister it was clear to me that B&S were everything that appealed to the optimist in mewhich is the part I most like to cultivate. And so a lifelong love affair was born.

I was lucky enough to see B&S at the iconic Radio City Music Hall in New York back in 2015, but narrowly missed getting to see them a second time in 2018 as I was felled by glandular fever and ended up having to eat the cost of the ticket. For the purposes of this Dream Setlist™, though, I get to take you wherever I please. And with the Glasgow Summer Sessions right around the corner, why don’t we set this scene on their main stage? I can’t think of any way to better experience B&S then jaunting about with a mass of like-minded individuals in the Scottish countryside. Now that that’s settled, the main event:

1. Nobody’s Empire

The opening track to 2015’s Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance was how they opened their set at Radio City, and honestly, why mess with success? It’s a brilliant start to what I think is their best album in over a decade, and that makes it the perfect opener for this set.

2. White Collar Boy

We break out the fuzz early, as one of B&S harder songs off 2006’s The Life Pursuit follows up our opening number and sees some of the set’s best singalong moments.

3. I Want the World to Stop

2010’s Write About Love has several unheralded gems on it, including “I Want the World to Stop.”  The way it oscillates between major and minor keys is a brilliant metaphor for the frenzied feeling of your life slipping awayand the desire for the world to stop with it.

4. The State I Am In

We’re taking it way back here to the first track off Belle and Sebastian’s debut album, Tigermilk, way back in 1996. Recorded in the rectory of a Glasgow church, the album features an abundance of the religious imagery that Stuart Murdoch has loved using throughout B&S’ career, and this track is no exception.

5. I’m a Cuckoo

The set’s first song off 2003’s Dear Catastrophe Waitress is this breakup anthem, which has an unforgettable intro riff and which namechecks the great Irish hard rock band, Thin Lizzy.

6. Ever Had a Little Faith?

God, I love this song. Catch me crying in the back of the crowd at this light, airy, magical piece of work that has always made me feel spoken to. Plus, it’s a slow one which perfectly complements the album’s jauntier bops like “Nobody’s Empire” and gives Girls in Peacetime the balance that makes it a truly wonderful record.

7. Seeing Other People

Did someone say jaunty bop? That’s the only way I can describe the set’s first entry from If You’re Feeling Sinister (though certainly not the last.) The moment that piano intro begins, the entire crowd comes together in a collective uproar. Now we’re really cooking.

8. The Boy with the Arab Strap

The uproar continues with one of the band’s most popular songs, the title track from their third record which provided the yearbook quote for Zooey Deschanel’s character of Summer Finn in the unforgettable 2009 indie flick 500 Days of Summer: (“Color my life with the chaos of trouble”). It’s also a tradition to bring fans onstage during this one, so if you’re close to the front, get ready!

9. Step Into My Office, Baby

The hits keep on coming with this one off Dear Catastrophe Waitress. The only B&S track ever to make triple J’s Hottest 100 (at #64 in 2003), it opens one of their most influential albums and is therefore a can’t-miss inclusion. At this point you might think we might be tired of singing along, so why don’t we sit back and groove…

10. Perfect Couples

…with another underrated gem from Girls in Peacetime? Stuart Murdoch gets a rest as Stevie Jackson takes lead vocals on this one with a pulsating drum beat which is sure to make converts of casual fans.

11. Sukie in the Graveyard

So much for that reprieve. This fan favorite from This Life Pursuit is one of the sunniest, happiest songs in B&S’s entire discography and sets us up perfectly with an energy boost we’ll need for the second half of the set.

12. Mayfly

A slower one here from If You’re Feeling Sinister to cool down after “Sukie,” Mayfly is one of the songs that make side B of Sinister one of my favorite album B-sides of all time.

13. If She Wants Me

We’re really bouncing around eras here, huh? This one, from Dear Catastrophe Waitress, features another of B&S’s best intro riffs and lyrics that hit deep, all about the desire to leave a worthwhile impression on this earth.

14. The Stars of Track and Field

The opening track off If You’re Feeling Sinister remains a fan favorite and is sure to drive gig-goers together in a mass singalong (if the rest of the set hadn’t already)!

15. The Party Line

If the last track brought new friends together, this one has them dancing up a storm. The closest thing B&S has to a club anthem in their entire discography, this one is an absolute must in any Belle and Sebastian Dream Setlist.

16. Get Me Away From Here, I’m Dying

Speaking of absolute musts, here’s my favorite Belle and Sebastian song of all time! This ditty from If You’re Feeling Sinister will speak to anyone with incurable wanderlust, which is who I’ve always been. Lyrically, musically, poetically, I love it in every way.

17. If You’re Feeling Sinister

In the album, “Get Me Away” moves so seamlessly into this title track that I had to recreate this magical transition this imaginary live set.

18. I Didn’t See It Coming

This beauty opens Write About Love and stands as one of my favorite Belle and Sebastian songs in their entire catalogue. I have a vivid memory of dancing in the street to it late on a Minnesota winter weeknight when no one was around on a day when the temperature was at a high of -10. Farenheit. So if it could make me dance in that situation, it can make anyone dance anywhere.

19. Judy and the Dream of Horses

The closer to If You’re Feeling Sinister is one of those songs that builds and builds, but where it really comes alive is in the live setting. I can’t think of a better song to end the main part of the set with than the song that ends the album that made me fall in love with Belle and Sebastian in the first place.


20. The Rollercoaster Ride

The final song off The Boy with the Arab Strap is the definition of a slow burn, but it’s achingly beautiful, and it pops in as the first part of a three-song encore and effortlessly transitions into our next song.

21. Piazza, New York Catcher

Mike Piazza was my favorite baseball player growing up as a little New York Mets fan. And while my dream to follow in his footsteps and play in Flushing died a long time ago when I quit Little League at age 11, the dream of hearing the Belle and Sebastian song that namechecks him is still very much alive.

22. Sleep the Clock Around

This might seem like a strange one to end on, rather than a fan favorite like “Piazza.” But there’s something so beautifully final about this track, even though it appears close to the beginning of the Arab Strap record. “Everybody was happy, they were glad that they came” is, after all, the perfect descriptor of an evening seeing B&S in Glasgow. . . so it makes sense, trust me. As the crowds file away from the stage and back to their tents, this final message of love will ring in their ears and put smiles on their tired faces.

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