One of this years more lovelier musical surprises has been the return of 1990s alt-rock band Belly and the release of their third album ‘Dove’. Fronted by Tanya Donelly – formerly of Throwing Muses and The Breeders – Belly originally released two albums before splitting up in 1996. These records, ‘Star’ and it’s follow up ‘King’ forged Donnelly’s hauntingly beautiful voice with some darkly ambiguous lyrics all tied up with a musical sound influenced by everything from country to Ennio Morricone soundtracks to post-punk.
Fast forward 25 years and with a host of nineties bands seemingly reforming and hitting the road again it would be quite easy for a band like Belly – who never quite achieved the mainstream success they possibly deserved last time – to get lost in all of this nostalgia fest but their new album sounds as fresh and immediate as their material did in 93. The record – undoubtedly ‘Belly sounding’ but with a slightly more expansive outlook to the songs – has been widely celebrated and a sold out Wedgewood Rooms crowd are eager to see how the new material sits alongside the old faithful’s.
Inside the venue there’s a real convivial air to proceedings as if everyone here is meeting old friends for the first time in years. If there was any trepidation about ‘meeting up’ then it’s quickly forgotten about in those first few minutes with the band kicking off with the beautiful ‘Low Red Moon’ followed by the 1995 single ‘Seal My Fate’ which highlights Donnelly’s exceptional voice. As well as the tunes, the conversation also begins to flow and it’s obvious that the band know they’re playing to old friends with bassist Gail Greenwood encouraging the crowd to ‘dance like you did in 93’. The band rip into ‘Gepetto’ with it’s sing-along chorus and classics such as ‘Slow Dog’ and ‘Feed the Tree’ sound as fresh as anything being released this year. The new album is obviously something of great pride for the band – Donnelly described it recently as being the most collaborative Belly record to date – and it has seemingly given the band a real spring in their step with the set littered with songs from it. Opening track of the album – ‘Shiny One’ – is a highlight tonight, starting the second half in shimmery fashion whilst the final song of the set – ‘Starryeyed’ – is as beautifully delicate as it is on record.
Tonight’s show is a triumph. Something that you hope will be good and ends up being great. Belly are back and those in attendance tonight are thankful for their return. Near the beginning of the show, Greenwood tells the audience the outline for the evening: two sets from the band with an interval in between so that ‘you can call the babysitter’. It elicits a knowing laugh from the room. Yes, we’ve all got older, yes, we’ve all had to change and adapt but good music will never die and Belly’s set tonight shows class is permanent.
Photos from Chris Horton and Belly