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Blog: Let's Talk About Sets

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The Tea-Leaves in my Teabag and I went to see Belle & Sebastian at Somerset House on Sunday, and it was all very civilised - proper, organised, QUICK queueing at the bar, LOVELY toilets, delightful crowd and a very posh venue - and there were some moments of PURE MAGIC in the set. "Dog On Wheels" gave me a RUSH of memories of when that single first came out, about asking for it in a short-lived record shop opposite The Western in Leicester and getting into an excited conversation with other people in the shop about it, and similarly "My Wandrin' Days Are Over" took me back to talking to my good friend Mileage about them, about going to Bowlie, and him WOOING a girl with a tape of "If You're Feeling Sinister", and about them dancing to the song at their wedding reception. All sorts of memories like this kept popping up, and it reminded me how very MUCH Belle & Sebastian really MATTERED to me and loads of other people around the time of their second album and, especially, those three Eps.  OK, "Fold Your Hands Child" was a bit dreary (although "I Fought In A War" was ACE on Sunday night) and "Storytelling" is getting pretty dusty on my CD shelf, but GOODNESS ME, let us never forget how VITAL and EXCITING they were when they first EMERGED, and indeed how GRATE their new album is.

BUT great chunks of the evening passed me by a bit, and I think it's because of the set they chose to do. There was no "The State I'm In", no "Track & Field", no "Lazy Line Painter Jane", no "Seymour Stein" and all sorts of other omissions. Now, I know they have LOADS of songs I like and they can't play them all, but it did feel like they'd spread the "hits" out a bit between the two nights they were playing. They did the same sort of thing when I saw them at the Astoria earlier on in the year, and whilst I can see that it's a Good Thing to vary the set a bit for the sake of those who are coming to more than one night, that's NOT most people, most of us are there for one night, and we'd like The Hits please!

I mean, B&S are MUCH better than they used to be at this sort of thing - I remember seeing them in Colchester, just after "If You're Feeling Sinister" came out, and they played almost NOTHING from it, instead doing material from the (unavailable) "TigerMilk" and the (unavailable then) Eps to come, and it was rather frustrating - you got the feeling though that they thought this was the right thing to do, that they hadn't quite got over being a small local band yet, and thought that only their friends would be there, who'd be bored of the old stuff by now.

It's difficult though, to know what's precisely the best thing to do. When we went to see Paul McCartney last year it was a pretty unimaginative Just The Hits set he did - I mean, yes, they're VERY BIG HITS and you expect to hear them, but in a 2 hour + set there's got to be room to reward the HARDCORE a bit with something obscure ("Single Pigeon" for me please Paul!), it is, I guess, the OPPOSITE of what Belle & Sebastian have done in the past.

Perhaps it would be an idea to MARKET RESEARCH the audience, to see how many people coming have seen you before, and how many are coming because of one song in particular? I know that I personally would find this EXTREMELY handy, although to be honest I can usually TELL who's been to see me before through looking at their faces. Yes, there's an old rock and roll trick for you, when you have tiny audiences you usually remember their faces. CLEVER! As discussed before, working out a set list is a HARD JOB - for yourself, you usually want to play loads of NEW songs that you've just written and think are GRATE, but there might well be people who've come ESPECIALLY to hear a certain song, and are going to be a bit PEEVED if they don't get it.

I think we've done quite well at this with the Validators gigs lately. The cynical might say we do the songs we do because they're the only ones we know (not true! We can still play "Make The World Go Blind" and we haven't done that in AGES!), but it's also because the setlist includes all the songs people might actually KNOW us for, like "Hey Hey 16K", "Easily Impressed" and "Things'll Be Different", for instance. Actually, it's GRATE when we do those songs and people DO know them, OH how I relish saying "This is a song about the home computing boom of the mid-80's" and getting a Dylan Stadium Gig CHEER from someone at the back of the room. It's ACE!

Er... and now I'm not sure I know where I was going with this. Perhaps it's to wish for a future when, along with our tickets, we get a ballot paper for what songs we'd like to hear, or  - BETTER STILL - a rating for the category of songs we want? YES! That's more like it, like this:

Please rate on a scale of 1-10 the following types of song, according to which sort you would like to hear at the gig, with 1 meaning you do not wish to hear them at all, and 10 meaning you would be very upset not to:

( ) The Hits
( ) Album Tracks
( ) Singles b-sides
( ) Amusing Cover Versions
( ) Unamusing Cover Versions
( ) New Material
( ) Instrumental Jams

posted 21/7/2004 by MJ Hibbett

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