Los Angeles’ picturesque Hollywood Bowl, with its posh bars and bánh mì sandwiches, caters to a certain kind of wine-sipping, cheese-slicing crowd, which, at a capacity of 18,000, can be difficult for a band like Spoon or Belle & Sebastian to win over. But the beloved indie outfits took a solid swing at bringing a sedate audience to its feet on Sunday night (Aug. 6), and while they weren’t entirely unsuccessful, they were certainly pleasant enough. And if you’re headed to the Hollywood Bowl to cap off your weekend, that’s likely what you’re looking for.
Spoon fans (raises hand) are a dedicated bunch. Many have been following the band since they first found fame in the early 90s. And like the experience of being loyal to a sports team, you take the wins with the losses. Spoon occasionally hits one out of the park, like 2008’s “Don’t You Evah” or 2014 Triple-A radio favorite “Do You,” but for the most part, love for Spoon sees little commercially recognized reward, which could explain why an audience of season-ticket holders, as it were, might take some convincing.
Fortunately, frontman Britt Daniel was up for the task. Flooded in green and red light and hunched over his Fender, he cut quite the silhouette while clad in a black suit with bootcut trousers — the top button of his crimson shirt hanging on for dear life. Daniel strode around the stage, sardonically rasping into the mic. On “I Ain’t the One,” he splayed on his back atop a few amps, summoning the lonesome outlaw persona the song recalls.
On the more frenetic songs, it’s easy to imagine each member of Spoon as a fast-moving cog that just so happens to interlock with all the other pieces, creating a cohesive sonic machine almost by chance. There’s little communication between the members but they are undeniably connected. During a taught, extended passage from “I Turn My Camera On,” Daniel disappeared to the back of the stage to contribute some keyboards, but the precisely tuned machinations didn’t lose any steam. Although drummer Jim Eno is the only member besides Daniel left of the original lineup, the music embodies a gritty insistence that bass player Rob Pope and keyboardists Alex Fischel and Gerardo Larios do justice.
Try as they may, with the exception of “The Underdog,” whose familiar horn hook enticed hips to swing, Spoon struggled to wake the crowd out of its collective food coma. For that, the Bowl needed the charm of a Scotsman.
Enter: Belle & Sebastian frontman Stuart Murdoch and his merry band of multi-instrumentalists, complete with keytar, flute, cello, violin, and recorder. At one point, nine musicians shared the stage. With a solid grasp on the odd hope-inflected ennui that’s brought them a second wind of millennial fans, Belle & Sebastian tap into the sort of aesthetic you’d expect of Simon & Garfunkel — in the sense that it’s sometimes hard to reconcile the band’s swoon-worthy music with the image of a melancholy, bespectacled, sensitive guy. The band embraces their own nerdiness, though, reinforced with the twee visuals that accompanied “Little Lou, Ugly Jack, and Prophet John” and “Perfect Couples.” Yet Belle & Sebastian is so earnest, so endearingly sweet and jolly that their performance convinces you to leave your cynicism behind — a difficult feat, indeed, particularly in Hollywood.
“My goodness, you all look very comfortable,” Murdoch teased the crowd. “We might have to do something about that.”
At the opening bars of fan favorite “The Boy with the Arab Strap,” Murdoch lost the blazer he’d been wearing, rustled up a hat, and ran out into the crowd, a veritable Pied Piper as he gathered a train of fans behind him while he bolted. Once he completed a loop, Murdoch found his way back to the stage trailed by roughly 20 ecstatic fans. Making good on an earlier promise to get people out of their seats — digestion be damned — the band did just that. It helped that Murdoch, in possibly one of the most Belle & Sebastian-ian things to ever happen, preceded the dash by asking the crowd to stand, raise their arms, and join him in an extended “ohm” (he recently got into Buddhism).
As expected, Belle & Sebastian’s setlist offered a brief history of the band and spanned their entire catalog, but only three of the sixteen tracks hailed from folk rock masterpiece “If You’re Feeling Sinister.” Notable tracks like “Mayfly” and “The Fox in the Snow” were left off in favor of songs from 2015’s “Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance” and a recently released single about how great life is before you get old (“We Were Beautiful”).
At the end of “I Didn’t See It Coming,” Murdoch high-fived fans in the front as they left the stage, and the band took the customary — and at this point, perfunctory — stage exit before returning to encore with “Lazy Line Painter Jane” and “The Party Line.” Unexpected choices for closers, but effective nonetheless, much like Spoon and Belle & Sebastian themselves. Perhaps not the best fit for the Hollywood Bowl, but with 18,000 satiated customers, who’s arguing?