Photo by PETE TROSHAK
A few songs into their first set on Friday night, Belly singer Tanya Donelly let out a deep sigh, looked out into the audience and summed up the feelings of the crowd and the nation with a single sentence: “What a shit week.” Regardless of your political leanings, the firestorm brewing in Washington last week left a lot of psychic trauma and scars on the country, but Donelly and Belly succeeded in bringing release and relief to a captivated audience that happily hung on every note and syllable at Union Transfer on Friday night.
Donelly was a member of alternative rock cornerstones Throwing Muses and The Breeders before forming Belly in 1993 with brothers Tom Gordon (guitar) and Chris Gordon (drums), with bass player Gail Greenwood joining soon after. Their first album, Star, was a huge success that earned them two Grammy nominations and heavy rotation on MTV with the music video for the death-themed alt-rock guitar nugget “Feed The Tree.” Belly shared a co-headlining tour with Radiohead and received a then-coveted spot of a cover photo on an issue of Rolling Stone. The band released their criminally underrated second album King in 1995, but King failed to reach the heights that Star did and the band splintered and went their separate ways. Belly surprisingly reunited briefly to tour in 2016 and are on tour now in support of their excellent new album Dove.
Friday night, the band hit the stage with a rollicking “Seal My Fate” that kickstarted a two-set, two-hour long, 22-song performance that made the crowd feel like 1995 never ended. Greenwood danced and pogoed perilously close to the edge of the stage and thumped away at her sticker encrusted and battle-scarred white Thunderbird bass. Chris Gorman drummed like he had six arms and smiled like he has the best job ever. Tom Gorman arrived dressed in black vest and dress pants and a crisp white shirt looking like an old west gunslinger who eschews his shootin’ irons in favor of a airliner sized jet black Gretsch guitar that is fueled by gallons of tremelo. Donelly held court center stage, slashing away at her guitar and delivering her trademark soaring vocals. Half of the songs the band played during the show were highlights from their first two albums. They delivered an explosive shoulda-been-a-hit-in-1995 “Superconnected” that threatened to tear the roof off the joint.
Donelly laid down a challenge with her trilling vocal chirps during “Full Moon, Empty Heart” that incited a call and response vocal battle with the audience. The band played a swirling, faster than normal “Feed The Tree” that evoked the loudest roar of the night from the crowd. Tom Gorman clanged out the opening chords of “Gepetto” at a volume that might have awoken some of the dead in the area and which caused another eruption from the crowd and ignited a mass sing along. The band also played almost all of Dove as part of their sets and the new songs were also well received by the crowd. Dove is an album made for these times, with themes that alternate between love and hope for the future and the recognition that things are kind of fucked up right now but that in time a change is hopefully gonna come. The highlight of the night was a glorious performance of new song “Stars Align.” The band delivered a dreamy gorgeous slice of guitar pop as good as anything they have ever served up and in doing so lifted the spirits of the crowd. “I could tell you it’s all gonna be alright / Stars will align, hearts unite /The lamb will lie with the lion / I could say we’re gonna be fine someday /And it might not be a lie.” — PETE TROSHAK