Bassist Gail Greenwood told the sold out crowd of Belly fans at Bowery Ballroom on Wednesday, “I’d rather be playing for you than the finest people in the world.” She then conveyed a conversation that took place before the show in which lead singer Tanya Donelly said, “If I weren’t playing with you guys, I would be so fucking nervous!” Then Tanya retorted, “Well, I’d rather be playing with you than the finest people in the world.” The whole crowd laughed, and it was just another moment of pure levity that drove one of the most enjoyable reunion shows I’ve seen by any band in years. They played with no opener, instead performing two lengthy sets of well over 20 songs, encompassing almost everything they’ve ever recorded and more. After more than 20 years apart, they all simply had the greatest time playing together of any musicians I’ve seen on stage in far too long, almost transforming into children all over again in each other’s presence.
Belly is one of those bands that all, but defines the mainstream “120 Minutes”-driven early 90’s alt rock scene. Tanya Donelly had impressive roles in alt-rock mainstay bands like Throwing Muses and The Breeders in the late 80’s, but this was the first outfit that seemed more her band than the previous multi-frontwoman units, and thusly had a breezier, more upbeat appeal. Sure enough, they had breakout success with their first album Star in 1992, but their follow-up King in 1995 was far more complex and rich and didn’t appeal to as wide an audience (although it’s still my favorite). Rather suddenly, after only a few years together, they broke up to the sadness of their devoted fans. Not so long ago, in 2014, Donelly surprised many when she reunited with Throwing Muses in NYC, and sure enough it wasn’t long before rumors arose that she was, in fact, recording again with her other old band, Belly.
So, it was a night all about Belly, Belly, and more Belly. The best known line-up was all there too, with the founding brothers of Tom and Chris Gorman on guitar and drums respectively, while Gail Greenwood, who has been in Belly since ’93, was the firecracker stuffed to the brim with TNT, continually cracking jokes and being the joyful prankster who is essential for any killer party. Then there’s Tanya, who couldn’t have been more delightful and gorgeous, with a voice that feels like sliding around on the finest silk sheets, sweet and smooth with just the slightest hint of sweet raspiness that takes you over the edge of a cuteness orgasm every time she hits the height of that harmonizing swell.
Even though they’ve only played a handful of dates so far, in their home territory of Rhode Island and some European shows, they sounded surprisingly tight, especially as they played numerous songs that they hadn’t played since recording them a lifetime ago. The foursome started off by playing some of their later stuff, b-sides, and even some new songs that they’re apparently either planning to release one-by-one on Soundcloud or as a complete EP out soon. They played coy at first about singing any songs from Star, but ended their first set of the evening with “Full Moon, Empty Heart,” and stuffed the second half with many songs from their early days. As I said, it seemed like they played almost every song they’d ever recorded, and I was not kidding. This was especially exciting if you were a fan, as you would know many of their best tracks were b-sides or appeared on soundtracks. My favorite moment was when they played the rare b-side “Spaceman” that gave me a serious case of goose-bumps, the Tank Girl soundtrack cut “Thief’ that closed the second set, a powerfully emotional new track called “Punish,” the super-rocker “Super-Connected”, and yes, Star‘s final song “Sway,” which brought the house down as the encore.
Article: Dean Keim