TVD Live: Belle & Sebastian, Japanese Breakfast, Los Bitchos
at Wolf Trap, 6/15

PHOTO: HOLLIE FERNANDO | Two summers of canceled or delayed concert tours due to Covid has not only resulted in a pent-up desire among music fans to get out and enjoy, but caused a big pile-up of top acts sharing bills in order to fit in all the season’s dates. There’d be no reason that, say, Belle & Sebastian and Japanese Breakfast couldn’t headline their own tours. But here they were together on a splendid outdoor bill at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts in the woods of Virginia on an evening kicked off by the sharp, grooving instrumentals of the London band Los Bitchos.

Belle & Sebastian, for one, was a band so anxious to perform they’ve been picking things from all over their career, doing multiple songs from six different albums in addition to only a couple from their latest, A Bit of Previous, that they had to record at home in Glasgow instead of Los Angeles because of travel restrictions. So giddy did they seem at performing, frontman Stuart Murdoch ended up dancing atop an upright piano at the end of “I’m a Cuckoo.” “How did I get up here?” he wondered at its end.

Every night’s set has been different from the last as they spin through their rich catalog. And as spontaneous as it all seemed, there was a definite plan in action as half its members—there are up to eight on stage this time—moved to different instruments for each selection.

The manic Murdoch served as frontman for nearly every tune, though Sarah Martin and Stevie Jackson each took lead exactly once (not counting Jackson’s impromptu salute to the state with a verse of The Rolling Stones’ “Sweet Virginia”). And while the kaleidoscopic films and projections behind them seemed to fit each song, it was clear that the visuals could accompany just about any song they could try.

Despite all the seeming planning, fans still had a couple of requests that they tried, though Martin had to feed Murdoch the lines of “This is Just a Modern Rock Song” that he eventually abandoned. Though the show excelled with the balladry—there was a particularly swell harmonizing on “Piazza, New York Catcher”—it was an upbeat set of celebration that largely had the audience on its feet.

Japanese Breakfast for many was the hot act on the bill. The band just played the season finale of Saturday Night Live last month and frontwoman Michelle Zauner is a best selling author (of her memoir Crying in H Mart). It’s all heady stuff, and a far cry from when the Philly band was opening shows for all manner of acts – (Sandy) Alex G, Porches, Mitski and Eskimeux—at the old Rock & Roll Hotel in DC just five years ago.

Backed by five musicians, she had her choice of instruments, banging a gong in the opening “Paprika,” switching to guitar or keyboards here and there. But mostly she kept to her microphone, skipping around and dancing, further conjuring the obvious joy in many sectors of the audience.

Zauner’s songs are personal and reflective, and her performance style can be more inward as well. As much as she has to say, her range is limited and as a result, her songs can be same-sounding over the course of a set, even as her style has moved from indie rock to broader pop approach. Her stage band includes violin and saxophone to fill out the sound.

You have to admire her adherence to her fashion choice, though. Her white sailing suit in shorts, tie, and knee socks was striking but doubtless hot as the warm evening went on. “I overestimated the breathability of the summer suit,” she said halfway through the set. “”It looks like I should be on a yacht, it doesn’t mean I feel that way.”

I can’t say enough about what a cool tone was set by the generally unknown opening combo. Los Bitchos formed in London, but represent a lot of different backgrounds (from Uruguay, Australia, and Sweden as well as the UK) as they dedicate themselves solely to instrumentals.

Lead guitarist Serra Petale adds the notes of cambia to her music and switches to bongos as the whim suits her. They even began the set doing choreographed dance in the style of old bands of the ’60s. It was fitting the sun was still up for their sunshiny set. They were perfect in setting the stage for the fine summer night of music to come.

The State I Am In
I’m a Cuckoo
Unnecessary Drama
If She Wants Me
She’s Losing It
The Boy With the Arab Strap
We Are the Sleepyheads
Piazza, New York Catcher
Song for Sunshine
Reclaim the Night
Susie in the Graveyard
A Summer Wasting
The Wrong Girl
Judy and the Dream of Horses

Get Me Away from Here, I’m Dying
Another Sunny Day

Be Sweet
In Heaven
The Woman That Loves You
Kokomo, IN
Road Head
The Body is a Blade
Posing in Bondage
Everybody Wants to Love You
Slide Tackle
Posing for Cars

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