Belly returns for a reunion tour of Europe and the U.S
Images by: Jen Vesp
The trends of popular music, fashion, art, film making, you name–it is often a reaction to the aesthetic of the previous generation. This is true for Belly and other bands who came to their own in the ‘80s and emerged in the ‘90s. Alternative rock was a reaction to the musical indifference of many, but not all, punk bands at the time and the overplayed and tired classic rock before it.
The older generations tried to figure out Generation X and what was going on with them musically and found that in trying they became puzzled and perplexed. MY generation didn’t buy into commercialism the way previous generations did. The closest thing that we have to a rock icon is Kurt Cobain, but he is neither put on a pedestal nor venerated like the Woostockian gods of the previous generation. Many of us were economically in the shadow of the Baby Boomers in addition to being dominated by them as far as airplay. Bands of the 1990s like L7, Dinosaur Jr., The Swans, Teenage Fan Club, My Bloody Valentine, The Daisy Chainsaw, and Sonic Youth never did catch on with most of the classic rock cronies. We were into our own thing regardless of if it was popular or not. And that’s what tour featured artist Belly is doing, their own thing, love it or hate it, on their 2016 reunion tour.
Alternative rock could be whatever it wanted to be as far as sound was concerned not like its contemporary heavy metal which had a strict criteria which was not permitted to be veered away from. Many bands of the ‘90s similar to Belly, such as Curve, and The Breeders that had a female front would juxtapose melodic vocals which were unapologetically feminine, against heavy and often textural soundscapes.
Tanya Donelly, Belly’s singer songwriter, started out in a band called the Throwing Muses in the late 1980s before forming Belly. The Muses could be pop at times, with more of a girl band sound than Belly. Back then the Muses could be seen at venues such as the original Knitting Factory in New York City. The Knitting Factory was first located on the grungy Lower East Side then moved to Tribeca, which is a swankier neighborhood. Today The Knitting Factory is located in Brooklyn. One would go to the Knitting Factory in those days to hear the most edgy and original acts that were coming out: Thurston Moore, John Zorn, Pere Ubu, to name a few.
None of these acts were ever going to be played on the radio ad nauseam, and that was the preference. The Throwing Muses, though on the pop side at times, was heavy enough and obscure enough for the Knitting Factory.
In 1991, around the time when Belly was formed in Boston, Donelly played on Pod, the Breeders’ first album. The Breeders were a band that was a spin off of the Pixies which was centered on Kim Deal’s songwriting. (A “breeder” was according to Dayton slang, a term coined by the LGBT community to describe those of us that procreate.) Pod is a great record, filled with great original songs and took it garage rock to the next level. There is an unforgettable version of the Beatles “Happiness is a Warm Gun” that is delightfully sonic.
If you are not familiar with Belly’s music you find a good amount of variety. They can be heavy, they can be sad, they can be artistic. Their musical palette ranges from somber reverberating waltzes to aggressive no nonsense garage rock, with everything in between colored with subtitle textures.
The nature of alternative rock as I stated above, does not to fit in the box. Donelly’s lyrics are stellar and she has become a Grammy-nominated artist over the years. In 1994, when their first album Star dropped, Belly was nominated for two Grammys in the categories of Best Alternative Music Performance and Best New Artist. Star sold two million copies in the US and a total of 800,000 copies internationally.
Belly broke up in 1996, and this year they have come together for this reunion tour of Europe and the U.S. They just finished several concerts in Europe and over the next few weeks they are playing the East Coast: Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington D.C. At the end of August they will play the West Coast: Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle before they reach the Portland, Oregon. September will bring them to the Midwest with dates in Chicago, Minneapolis.