Belly – Concorde 2, Brighton – 19th June 2018
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Belly – Concorde 2, Brighton – 19th June 2018

With the release of Dove back in May, early 90s heroes Belly followed up their second album, King, 23 years after its release on the 4AD label, which is also home to another of Tanya Donelly’s iconic groups Throwing Muses.

There is something to be said for not re-visiting your heroes. Lord knows what a crushing disappointment it can be. Such as seeing Country Joe and the Fish, 30 years after their heyday, or Motorhead, also way past their creative and youthful prime, just two examples of bands who, while still cutting it on the live stage, just don't have any decent new ammunition in the barrel.

However, Belly were around for such a short spell (just three years and two albums) that it felt like they went out when they were still very strong and with much to give. Still a young 50-ish proposition, Belly proved with Dove that yes, they are creatively strong again, have plenty left in the tank, and are enjoying what they do. Tonight proved the same, hogging the whole night – playing two extended sets, no supports – and commenting excitingly to the packed audience, as so many Concorde 2 visiting artists do, about playing by the seaside.

Digging into their 90s back catalogue as well as healthy servings of newer material, Belly were always on the rockier side of indie. With the super-toned muscularity of long-time bassist and co-songwriter Gail Greenwood still indulging in quasi-clique bass poses, Belly veer close to glam rock at times.

Yet, they are far too sophisticated for that, their batch of idiosyncratic songs are intricately wedded to the likes of the aforementioned Throwing Muses, but no one else. That is perhaps why there is a good deal of love here for them today, with Sleeper’s Louise Wener in the audience, a similar band who had a short 90s heyday and have recently reformed and are about to embark on a new album, also their first for 20-plus years.

All the obvious favourites from their first two albums are here; the infectious pop bounce of ‘Gepetto’ and ‘Seal My Fate’, the weird and surreal lyricism at the heart of the charging ‘Slow Dog’, minor indie classic ‘Feed the Tree’, and the punk vibes of ‘Super-Connected’, as well as lesser known numbers such as the dark vibe of ‘Low Red Moon’, and ‘The Bees’. The tracks played from Dove are invariably up to that standard, which has made the Belly reformation more of a celebration of the great Boston/East Coast scenes of the late 80s and early 90s in particular, and which resonate deeply to this day.

There's the heavy bass rhythm of ‘Faceless’, the epic country-tinged ‘Human Child’, the mildly rocking ‘Stars Align’, and the languidly chopping indie grooves of ‘Shiny One’, where Donnelly’s voice is eerily reminiscent of former bandmate Kristin Hersh. The melodies, the energy, and the passion are all there, Donnelly's powerful voice providing the basis for a remarkable night, from a remarkable band, more than just a footnote in the history of pre-Britpop.

Jeff Hemmings


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