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Belly Review by Nic Howden

Belly Review by Nic Howden

Watching David Byrne shred the performance rulebook with his American Utopia show meant resurgent Rhode Islanders, Belly’s, traditional frontline had to work hard to reorder my rock ‘n’ roll mind the next night.

For label enthusiasts, formed 26-years ago, in the eye of the Nirvana storm, Belly was an alt-rock/pop-punk band fronted by former Breeders/Throwing Muses guitarist/singer/songwriter Tanya Donelly. 

Belly only made two albums in their original incarnation, releasing a third, the Pledge Music-funded Dove, this spring, two years after reuniting. So, while the short UK tour is new LP heavy in terms of set, and hand gestures from the players, it’s everything you want to hear from the back catalogue too; the quiet/ quiet/loud of debut album Star and follow-up King’s comparatively loud/louder/louder. The perfect proposition then; matched by its delivery.

Shepherd’s Bush Empire is the finale and everyone, on stage and in front of it, is out for a(nother) damned good night. Belly amble on apparently unprompted and the house lights go down quickly in their wake. Tom Gorman heads to his station stage right while his brother Chris, who’s looking a little bit Jack Dee in his slightly younger days, gets behind the drums. Donelly stops in the middle and Gail Greenwood, all irrepressible rock spirit, locks into the left hand side.

They start with Star turn Low Red Moon, audience in absolute raptures, a significant hardcore among them acknowledged for taking in every date. Despite the measures of novelty, the sets, and there are two, with a 20-minute ‘drinkers’ delight’ interval in the middle, hold everybody fast. Donelly and Greenwood acknowledge and play to the singer’s kids in the gallery but this gig was for the extended Belly family in equal measure.

There’s room for some fantastic thuggery in Gorman’s live chops, Dusted, Slow Dog and Super-Connected three prime examples, juxtaposed with his gentrified dress, demeanour and moustache, while Donelly’s extraordinary voice carries her light and dark fairy tale lyrics.

It’s Greenwood though with the one-liners, and more, between songs. “Let’s party like its 199…3!” the bassist says, with a practiced chuckle, introducing the band’s biggest hit Feed The Tree.

Donelly seems to be satisfied with singing, playing and smiling until the very end of the show.

“I want to say happy ‘welcome immigrants week’. We got a lot of marching to do when we get back,” the singer says to whoops and cheers. “We are embarrassed the President of the United States is from the United States.”

The show/the tour is a spotlight for the Dove LP and, tellingly, each of the new songs meets with a rapturous response from the pretty much even split male/female capacity crowd.

There is no Belly template and while they’re in the shadows of Star and King at this stage, like those records they demand attention and they will grow, given the chance, through performances like this one.

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