Belle and Sebastian Massey Hall, Toronto ON October 12

Belle and Sebastian Massey Hall, Toronto ON October 12
"I was just tempted to open with an obscene statement," remarked Belle and Sebastian vocalist Stuart Murdoch as he joined the rest of the band onstage. "I don't know," he added, perplexed, "it was like Tourette's."

But the fey frontman didn't need cuss words to deliver an entertaining evening; besides the string quartet, he was in the company of seven musical virtuosos, one of which happened to be his quick-quipping sidekick Stevie Jackson. The two would trade witticisms all night, but not before getting the show off to an oddly shaky start.

"Read the Blessed Pages" and "Write About Love," both of which came courtesy of the band's cheekily titled new album Belle and Sebastian Write About Love, were uncharacteristically hackneyed, especially for a band that spent the latter half of their career making up for the ramshackle shows of their early years. Even Murdoch, who usually provides the energy for the band, seemed downcast, but it was only temporary — by the time the band slinked through new album highlight "I Want the World to Stop," a sizable crowd with contagious energy had fled their seats to dance around the stage and inject some life into the band. From there, the group rode a cloud of well-picked tunes, whisking through hits like "Sukie in the Graveyard," "I'm a Cuckoo" and 2004 B-side "(I Believe In) Travelin' Light."

Of course, Belle and Sebastian are no slouches when it comes to non-musical entertainment, either. By the time the set was over, the crowd had obliged the band by singing the "ooohs" that begin "I'm Not Living in the Real World," a handful of plush footballs had been flung to any children in the audience, and close to a dozen people had danced onstage with the band, some even earning Olympian medals for their troubles.

The band received a standing ovation, and returned to satisfy the crowd with "Judy and the Dream of Horses" and "Me and the Major," a pair of classics from their 1996 landmark If You're Feeling Sinister. The entirety of their stunning debut, Tigermilk, was sadly omitted from the set, but it wasn't exactly devastating; Belle and Sebastian played their catalogue smartly, and for the most part, sharply, refusing to let anyone leave Massey Hall unsatisfied — even when it meant spontaneously half-assing their way through a request for the Kinks' "You Really Got Me."