Belle and Sebastian / Rasputina Massey Hall, Toronto ON - November 8

Rasputina opened the night, delivering a strong dose of country, blues-rock and metal served up by unlikely dual-female vocals and a double-barrelled cello onslaught. Trading in Southern gothic imagery, the trio, rounded out by a male drummer, furthered the case for the cello as a premiere rock instrument. The point was driven home by a couple of covers that closed the set — CCR's "Bad Moon Rising" and Heart's "Barracuda." The cello, however, was used for an altogether different purpose with Scottish indie pop phenoms Belle and Sebastian. Along with the occasional use of up to five violins, the strings were not employed to intensify the rock but to beautify and fully orchestrate. With songwriter/vocalist/guitarist Stuart Murdoch leading the charge, a 12-piece band immaculately and effortlessly entranced the capacity crowd. Even while performing to three levels of seated fans, Murdoch and band completely erased the wall between performer and audience with casual and friendly banter throughout a set that interspersed tracks from their fantastically upbeat new album, Dear Catastrophe Waitress. A number of notable moments of improvised interplay came off so charmingly it almost seemed as if these were strategically planted. The first came about during Murdoch's reminiscence on Northern soul, which brought about an impromptu rendition of the Jackson 5's "I Want You Back" after being goaded on by the crowd. A second came when Murdoch made a call for songs, obviously trolling for requests when a particular voice shouted back that they have a song to offer up that they'd written. Taking the humorous situation in hand, the woman was invited up to the stage, provided with a guitar and when she sang her own song, the band attempted to back her. As the night went on and the mic went down to singing fans, and the stage was offered up to a dancer, the audience became fully enraptured by the B&S experience in its new joyous guise. Their timeless and classic folk pop was performed to perfection without muscle or posturing. The sugary sweet melodies, textured arrangements, gorgeous harmonies and wonderful storytelling won the night over. It was all more human and warm than one would ever expect on a cold Toronto night.