There was, if you stopped and thought about it Saturday, a rather fitting metaphor unfolding onstage at the South Side Ballroom.
The fourth annual Summer Cut was drawing to a close and the night’s headliner, Scottish indie-pop collective Belle & Sebastian, was steaming through its first North Texas set in nearly a decade. (“I know you’ve waited for 20 years to see us,” frontman Stuart Murdoch deadpanned.)
Belle & Sebastian have lasted, impressively, over an almost 20-year span, and in the course of that time, have evolved from delicate, twee, folk-pop stylists to something more robust, diverse and freewheeling.
The band, led by the irrepressible Murdoch, has, in short, grown into itself, in a very satisfying and surprising way.
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So too, has KXT 91.7 FM, a station catering to the “adult alternative” crowd, while also serving as one of a number of outlets for local music to be heard beyond the bars and clubs around town.
KXT has likewise found its level and embraced it, promoting a sizable number of shows, while also overseeing its own concert series (the annual “Barefoot at the Belmont” performances) and Summer Cut, which, for the first time this year, moved from Gexa Energy Pavilion to the South Side Ballroom.
The contraction in space made for a more intimate experience — not to mention a far more temperate one; the air conditioning was as much of a featured player as any musician on stage — and arguably the most satisfying festival-going experience yet offered in North Texas this year. Although promoters love putting bands and fans in large outdoor spaces when it’s warm outside, there’s something to be said for being able to focus on the music, and not whether you’re about to sweat to death.
As at previous Summer Cuts, KXT booked an all-local stage to compliment the main stage. Attendees simply walked between the two rooms, and were treated to some fine showcases, particularly from Catamaran, whose breezy, liquid riffs were tailormade for the end of summer, as well as Doug Burr, pulling from his superb new LP, Pale White Dove, and Calhoun, closing out the night with a taste of their forthcoming album, which they’re currently recording.
In the main room, the collective mind was blown by the force of nature that is Fantastic Negrito, a vivid fusion of R&B, gospel and full-tilt showmanship, courtesy the live-wire lead singer Xavier Dphrepaulezz. Between testifying and inveighing against any number of political and social wrongs, Fantastic Negrito doled out ferocious funk that nearly levitated the venue.
Israel Nash delivered a solid set of Allman Brothers-tinged rock, while Sarah Jaffe continued to demonstrate her fondness for rewiring her catalog (Clementine, a song Jaffe is probably past tired of playing, was rejiggered as a synth-laced sing-along).
But it was Belle & Sebastian’s evening-ending set that drew the largest crowd — attendance figures weren’t immediately available, but an eyeball estimate put the audience at around 1,500-2,000 — and the most enthusiastic.
The set list was fairly evenly split between the acclaimed band’s earlier, more folky work (The Boy with the Arab Strap; Loneliness of a Middle Distance Runner) and its more recent, funkier work (The Party Line; Perfect Couples). The 10-member band handled the shifts in style with ease, and Murdoch revealed himself as quite the engaging host, namechecking the Texas Rangers just before Piazza New York Catcher, and asking who in the audience was from Fort Worth or Arlington.
It all felt, in so many words, just right.
Here’s hoping KXT continues to hold its Summer Cut festival in such hospitable climes, which tend to elide the nits that could be picked (the sound system on the locals stage tended to destroy any nuance, for instance), and put the focus right where it belongs.