Lessons Learned on an Irksome Journey
A request for Belle and Sebastian’s tour manager: since no one at the show in Ludwigshafen was actually from Ludwigshafen, next time try to book them somewhere that doesn’t require a commute—like Heidelberg, where everyone came in from.
7 May 2006: BASF Feierabendhaus Ludwigshafen, Germany
That’s Ludwigshafen by the way (not Ludwigsburg). Oh, you knew? Ed Harcourt, one of the evening’s openers, received a round of astonished laughter from the crowd when he told us he’d never before been to Ludwigsburg. Hmph.
Anyway, my German teacher once told my class that Ludwigshafen is a town on “the other side of the tracks” so to speak. Of course, after you’ve fought your way down 30 kilometers of rat-race Autobahn, bumbled through 260 or so poorly-marked twists and turns in Mannheim, and finally slid down from the bridge over the Rhine and through the Ludwigshafen’s BASF office-park metropolis, the concert hall at the Feierabendhaus is actually kind of an oasis. It’s airy and cool. It has plush theater-style seats, and blazer-wearing ushers to escort you to them. Between openers a girl breezed in with a pretzel. A pretzel?!?! Other side of the tracks, my arse. Maybe my teacher must have only said that because she’d never been to the other side of other tracks, like the ones in, say, Chicago.
Belle and Sebastian have been working hard on the road since the beginning of the year, and Stuart Murdoch started things out by saying it had him so beat he wanted to go camp out in the Black Forest. Of course, you couldn’t detect that lack of energy in his performance—which leaned heavy on the new material. That’s a testament to the material as much as anything else. The critics are right about The Life Pursuit; it’s fun.
So fun, even, that guitarist Stevie Jackson couldn’t help throwing a lanky arm into a few windmills. The awkward aisle dancing got started early, too, with “Another Sunny Day”. After Murdoch complimented the folks stage right, and some girl on stage left loudly complained, Hey, what about us? Murdoch hopped into the crowd and danced with her in the middle of “Sukie in the Graveyard.” During the next song, a kid wearing a kilt and stockings scrambled out of his seat and joined the party.
Getting around to audience banter, Murdoch asked who was from Ludwigshafen, and no one—seriously, no one—spoke up. Heidelberg? Like I said, a lot of people. Mannheim? About the same. Scotland? One. “There’s always one,” Murdoch joked. There is, but this time, it wasn’t the guy in the kilt.
In time, he (the non-Scottish kilt guy) returned to his seat, wiping his brow. He’d only just sat down when Murdoch finally gave in to the girl who’d been calling for “Meat and Potatoes” all night and started up the song. Kilt guy jumped back up and tumbled down aisle and over knees to go dance again.
Murdoch chided the rest of us for looking tired as he introduced “Your Cover’s Blown”, and asked us to pretend it was Saturday night, not Sunday—perhaps that’s what he’d been doing to conquer his exhaustion. But it was Sunday, it was getting late, and we all had to get to work in the morning. Enthusiasm was not the issue.
Belle and Sebastian honored a final audience request, “The Boy From the Arab Strap”, when they came back for the encore. But, though we waited for a few moments after they’d gone again, that’s all we got. A shame, for sure, but you had to be grateful for the effort; we all know work can be exhausting and these guys powered through despite their pain. And perhaps there’s a lesson to be learned as well. Murdoch, tired though he was, showed us that you can’t let the little things drag you down.
And, that’s especially true when you have to write a review after a long drive home from Ludwigshafen. Wait, sorry. I guess I’m tired too.
// Notes from the Road
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