I know how set in my ways I can be, so I'm guessing there's little chance that Tanya Donelly is going to win over any new fans nearly 30 years into her recording career, spanning three of the most influential bands of the alternative era (Throwing Muses, the Breeders and Belly) and a cult-favored solo career. But for the already die-hards out there, can I just tell you what a magical show she put on Saturday night at Joe's Pub? The gig comes on the heels of Belly's sold-out comeback tour, with Tanya now promoting the compiled release of a series of EPs she has recorded over the past few years known as the "Swan Song Series." Each EP included about five songs on which she collaborated with musicians and songwriters she admires, so featured a range of moods and styles by way of Robyn Hitchcock, ex-Throwing Muses and Belly bassist Fred Abong and Rick Moody, I noted to Damian that when I saw her at Joe's Pub in 2004, promoting her "Whiskey Tango Ghosts" album, she didn't do a single Belly song and I thought nothing of it, concerned only about which songs from "Lovesongs for Underdogs" and "Beautysleep" might get left by the wayside. I mentioned this because I'm the first person to get pissy at Paul Weller for not doing enough Jam songs or Morrissey for not doing (enough) Smiths songs. Yet with Tanya her band and her solo work just seemed entirely disparate, so it never occurred to me she's go into the archives, although I wondered how the crowd would feel perhaps not really knowing what they were getting into.
In the end, it didn't seem to matter. Like me, everyone seemed mesmerized by the fairytale-like catalogue of new material she has amassed since going underground. Opener "Mass Ave." had Damian welling up with tears; "Mary Magdalene in the Great Sky" could make an atheist believe; "Christopher Street" convinced me she could have saved Kurt from Courtney. And by the time she got to the sibling love song "Still" I was full-on sobbing. Later, "Meteor Shower" washed away my tears and gave me chills. Something about the music, lyrics and arrangements of these new songs strike such a chord with me, perhaps having been written by someone my exact age who has now experienced enough highs and lows to have something to say. (She even made "jazz" seem enjoyable with "Let Fall the Sky," which is a little reminiscent of her lovely b-side "Moon Over Boston.") If there was a bitter Belly fan in the house, all was forgiven when sexy Tom Gorman came out to accompany on "Send Me Your Next Nightmare," then returned for the too-brief encore of "Untogether," which was a highlight of Belly's recent Bowery Ballroom gig. The show seemed to end before it started. But like the artist herself, short and sweet won the day. Please tell me this isn't the swan song from this luminous creature.
"Swan Song Series" is available now HERE.
(F)untogether ... I couldn't help it, I got hard.