Belle & Sebastian, et al, at Wolf Trap

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 of 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 D.C. 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 with her microphone 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 setlist for Belle & Sebastian was:

  • “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”

The setlist for Japanese Breakfast was:

  • “Paprika”
  • “Be Sweet”
  • “In Heaven”
  • “The Woman That Loves You”
  • “Kokomo, IN”
  • “Heft”
  • “Road Head”
  • “Boyish”
  • “The Body is a Blade”
  • “Glider”
  • “Posing in Bondage”
  • “Everybody Wants to Love You”
  • “Slide Tackle”
  • “Posing for Cars”
  • “Diving Woman”
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