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POP MUSIC REVIEW : Pop Laced With Idiosyncrasy Fuels Belly

April 17, 1993|RICHARD CROMELIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

HOLLYWOOD — "Tanya! Tanya! Tanya!"

The crowd's chant for Tanya Donelly at the end of her band Belly's show at the Whisky on Thursday was another step in what is shaping up as her landslide coronation as the rock arrival of the young year.

After years in the shadow of Kristin Hersh in the Rhode Island cult band Throwing Muses, singer-writer-guitarist Donelly emerges as captivatingly catchy and off-center, and Belly's debut album, "Star," and the single "Feed the Tree" are off to strong starts.

The quartet, which also plays Monday at the Coach House, isn't seasoned enough to make its debut L.A. show at the Whisky a cosmic experience strictly on a performance level. But it played with surprising authority, giving Donelly's songs the kind of firm-bottomed, wild-at-the-top delivery they demand.

Belly doesn't trade in emotional extremes, and Donelly has escaped the tense structures of Throwing Muses. Belly ropes in a variety of influences, from surf to punk, and smoothes them into rich, ringing anthems that reflect a classic pop craft. But it's a deceptive surface, because the music is strategically twisted and distorted to admit the personal idiosyncrasies that make Belly distinctive.

Donelly's lyrics are often drawn from childhood memory and dream, creating a surreal world of shifting images. Sometimes scary, sometimes funny, her songs are wide-eyed but knowing, playful but ominous, and she sings them in a voice whose dips and cracks suggest a youthful vulnerability. A couple of stark solo pieces lead to deeper psychic recesses.

The music sometimes seemed a little fussy and occasionally generic at the Whisky, but that wasn't a real problem thanks to the enthusiastic attack and an active, unpretentious stage manner.

In her floral print sun dress and short blond hair, the friendly if reserved leader looked like a high-schooler on her way to work at the Dairy Queen. Aggressive bassist Gail Greenwood might have been auditioning for L7, feet stomping and long hair flying, while guitarist Tom Gorman looked like a mechanic and drummer Chris Gorman like a hyperactive surfer dude. Their interaction was warm and energetic without seeming forced.

Belly and Velocity Girl play Monday at 8 p.m. at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano. $13.50. (714) 496-8930.

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