This recipe for cult appeal consists of: one '90s rock band of New Englanders; two albums of compellingly quizzical songs; various singles, B-sides, and leaked demos sprinkled on top; a breakup at the height of said band’s career; and 21 years of gestation to enhance its mystique. Last night, Belly was reborn to a gaggle of mostly Los Angelenos (and a few Orange County-ers [cough]) at the Teragram Ballroom in LA.
Thursday was, in fact, the second of a two day engagement for the venue’s “An Evening with Belly.” As it turned out, many of the fans in attendance were returning to get an additional fix of the good stuff; some of them had also recently seen the band’s reunion tour in other states as far away as New York. As it turns out, every stop on the tour has provided enough magical entertainment to not only satisfy the mystique cultivated by the music but also that which has been cultivated by fans who had gone many years without a concert experience to associate with the studio recordings they’d come to love.
What started out as a fairly intimate concert venue filled with mostly 30-somethings to 40-somethings quickly transformed into a hall of teenagers as soon as the entertainment began. Starting with a short music video featuring a happy little dog who goes on an aquatic adventure [this would be the "Bear Bear and Maurice” video alluded to in Belly’s interview with the Weekly], any expectation that the audience may have had that the band members’ stage show would reflect some of the darker or more cryptic undertones of their captivating songs was quickly dispelled (or blindsided) by an overtone of innocuous impishness.
This attitude was perpetuated by the band members. As soon as they arrived onstage, lead singer Tanya Donelly greeted the audience by saying, “What’s up, Burbank!” Any hold-outs from the cutesy wootsiness of the doggy video belonged to the band as of that moment; everyone melted and settled in for an evening of yucks and classic tunes with a band that was brilliantly devoid of rockstar ego. That being said, the disarming nature of the band, which by turns was self-deprecating (with wisecracks about gettin’ old) and reminiscent of a pep squad (particularly through the remarks of bassist Gail Greenwood).
Beyond the sheen of charming manners was a self-cultivated rock ‘n roll machine. The band members each taped their copy of the setlist to the stage, tuned their own instrument, and conducted his or herself as though there was no pressure or expectation to do anything but have a good time. They also probably designed the minimal but effective background projections and lighting schemes per each song and determined that the price for t-shirts should not exceed $25.
The music was solid. Fans of their extended catalog were rewarded with outstanding performances of “Broken” and “Spaceman.” Naturally, “Feed the Tree” and “Gepetto” were played, as were pretty much all of their singles. The two set show included a total of 21 songs; the highlights included: “Now They’ll Sleep,” “The Bees,” “Full Moon, Empty Heart,” and “Untogether.” Two new songs were woven into the mix as well. The first with the working title of “Punish,” and the second is called “Comet.” Both entries are catchy enough to demonstrate that the rebooted band has fresh magic to yield.
Donelly’s voice still has the strength to smash down walls during the more aggressive moments in the music, and, when they weren’t horsing around between songs, Greenwood, Thomas and Chris Gorman (guitarist and drummer, respectively) could easily command a sound that was every bit as vicious as well as delicate during the frail and pensive moments. The mystique of Belly remains in the music; beyond that, the lightheartedness of their stage personae keeps their fans enchanted. It is not likely that their spell will wear off before they produce more music or set out on another tour. As Greenwood teased, prior to their two song encore, “You guys are gluttons…for awesome!”