It's hard to put into words just how special last night was, seeing the reunited Belly at Bowery Ballroom with Damian and Greg, my childhood best friend from Arizona. Greg's a page designer for Gannett at the newspaper publisher's design studio in Des Moines, and our quirky schedules and the realities of grown-up life have only allowed us to get together twice in the past decade or more. Greg and I had built a successful bootleg CD "business" in the aughts, and one of our prized releases was a collection of Belly and Tanya Donelly b-sides, which was somewhat ironic given the fact that our friendship is deeply rooted in the '80s, having met as competitors in a junior tennis tournament in 1980, before becoming two of Dobson High School's most notorious New Waver "fags." When I couldn't find anyone in New York suitably excited about this first-time-in-20-years concert event, I texted Greg on a lark to see if he might be able to fly out, knowing there's no one more fun to attend a concert with than him. Although he said he could get no extra days off, Greg shocked me by saying he might be able to switch his Saturday or Sunday off with a woman for Wednesday -- and when that panned out, I started investigating flights. Before we knew it, we'd figured out a do-able in-Wednesday-morning, out-Thursday-so-he-could-be-home-in-time-for-work-that-afternoon itinerary and the trip was a-go. Although he missed his connecting flight and American, unbeknownst to us, turned out to have gates in the non-American terminal at La Guardia, Damian and I eventually were able to greet him in Queens and shepherd him into Manhattan, where we introduced him to our low-key way of life -- having lunch at the Grey Dog, taking a stroll through the West Village -- with a people-watching stop in Abingdon Square -- then coffee at Grounded and browsing books* at Three Lives and the Bureau of General Studies - Queer Division at the recently renovated New York LGBT Center. (One of the reasons Greg hasn't been to visit me here is that he said he found the city "too intimidating," a notion we set out to dismiss. (Funnily, Greg came with me the first time I visited NYC in 1985 when we were teenagers but has never come back!) Soon, it was time for dinner -- Coppelia, of course -- and off to the Bowery Ballroom.
After procuring refreshments on the main floor, we headed upstairs for what would turn out to be the funnest concert in recent memory. Tanya was as adorable as ever -- who am I kidding, the reason I preferred Belly to Throwing Muses is because Tanya was the bombshell sister! -- and the rest of the band also looked like a fraction of the two decades that had gone by since their last gig. Guitarist Tom is now the hotter of the Gorman brothers, with his pornstache and big ears, although drummer Chris still has his appeal. Gail Greenwood filled the role as "emcee" for the eternally shy alt-queen-turned-doula, although a little of the (fake) bassist's routine went a long way. (That being said, the four of them looked like they were having a great time playing together again, and the feeling was utterly infectious.)
While the chances of the setlist going astray were mitigated by the band's relative lack of material, Greg and I were thrilled that they did a wonderful blend of tracks from their blockbuster debut, "Star" (did you know the songs were written to be the second Breeders album?), without in any way neglecting the band-ending flop, "King," which many of us believe to be their masterpiece. (Much to our surprise, the audience seemed to agree with us, SINGING ALONG to several "King" album tracks!) Two personal fave b-sides and two promising new tracks (could a new album be in the works?) rounded out the list, Although Donelly still occasionally records/performs, as does Greenwood, the Gormans are both out of the music business (both becoming professional photographers, according to Wikipedia), so it's worth noting how incredibly tight they sounded for a band that hadn't performed together since 1996. The entire evening was unforgettable, but some wonderful moments in particular included Greg and me singing "Red" as loud as we possibly could -- don't worry, everyone else was, too! -- "Seal My Fate" (Tanya still can hit the notes at 50), the audience-led "The Bees," watching Damian go crazy during "Low Red Moon" and the one-two-three ending of "Super-Connected" (best flop single of all time!), "Thief" (the quintessential dysfunctional love song!) and "Stay," the ultimate mixed message for a crowd that would have liked to have done nothing more.
Afterward, we stopped at Donut Pub before retiring to my Chelsea abode. Greg had been up 24 hours at this point and had to be up again in four more. When the alarm went off at 5, he was already up and all but ready to go. We managed to chat a few minutes -- with him thanking me for the invite, and my thanking him for stepping out of his comfort zone to allow it to happen -- before he headed down to the street to catch his car while I crawled back in bed wishing he could stay, oh oh oh oh, stay.
Belly setlist at Bowery Ballroom
Aug. 10, 2016
"Seal My Fate"
"Low Red Moon"
"Judas My Heart"
"Full Moon, Empty Heart"
"Feed the Tree"
"Human Child" (new)
"Now They'll Sleep"
Kenneth and Greg in New York City (2016)
Greg and Kenny in Mesa, Ariz. (1984)
Kenny and Greg in Mesa, Ariz. (1986)
*While perusing the shelves at Three Lives and BGSQD, Greg mentioned he was dying to get his hands on a hardback of Martin Duberman's "Stonewall," to which I replied that I could probably give him mine as my apartment is overflowing with books and CDs. As I dusted my copy off after we got home from the concert, I realized it was actually Greg who had given it to me, as a present for my 26th birthday in 1993. As I read the inscription out loud to Greg and Damian, I got chills at how prescient his words were. So thankful to have lived to see this day of equality with a friend with whom I have been through so much, and so happy we're still in each other's lives, however intermittently.