Live Review: Belle & Sebastian, Totally Mild

7 May 2018 | 1:52 pm | Donald Finlayson

"Murdoch's pop songs and musical narratives are always so quietly likeable, despite often focusing on seemingly banal subject matters."

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If Zooey Deschanel were a Melbournian, she'd probably play bass for Totally Mild.

A Victorian group of Belle & Sebastian disciples, it's only fitting that Totally Mild should appear here tonight at the Palais Theatre in support of their Scottish heroes. The surf guitars have that familiar old jangle and vocals float across the venue with a conversational spark. Despite their Australian heritage, the songs from 2018's Her are performed without any hint of a local accent or corny national winks. Totally Mild sound like they could hail from just about anywhere. But when everyday melancholy is set to pop music, cultural barriers would only get in the way.

For some famous rock bands, a mid-life crisis is defined by the decision to release a series of linked EPs rather than yet another studio album. Billy Corgan got about halfway through Teargarden By Kaleidoscope before giving up and mellowing out with Alex Jones. So how the hell did Belle & Sebastian get away with it on How To Solve Our Human Problems (Parts 1-3)? The answer - they've still got it. "It" being Stuart Murdoch's wonderful sense of melody, a revolving door of talented multi-instrumentalists and the invitation to a lyrical world where all men wear cardigans.

Murdoch, the flamboyant father of two, graces the theatre with his signature Scottish tenor that sounds untouched by over 20 years in the business. Performing a setlist of songs from the new EPs, a handful of classics from 1996's If You're Feeling Sinister and some deep cuts, Belle & Sebastian have a little something for everybody here tonight.

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With its shy lyrics and androgynous sexuality, it's easy to see why twee pop is a genre that never quite lifts any one group up to the big leagues. A band like Beat Happening can only sing so many songs of childhood romance before it begins to border of self-parody. But it's the chiming, romantic charms of Belle & Sebastian's music that keep them from being written off as just another kitschy novelty. Murdoch's pop songs and musical narratives are always so quietly likeable, despite often focusing on seemingly banal subject matters.

There's something about seeing a middle-aged father in a singlet dance around like Morrissey in front of a screen of vintage Olympics footage. It must be seen to be believed. How lucky we are that Belle & Sebastian still carry the brightest torch for this bizarre and misunderstood genre.