the anatomy of anxiety

bellmer dolls are one of those bands whose name you hear that makes instant sense. then you see their name a dozen more times and remind yourself to hear them or catch a show. once you finally do, you’ll wonder what took you so long.

new york underbelly lived up to their name by coming up with a bill of bands from the wrong side of the gutter. the recent show at crash mansion also featured the funeral crashers and blacklist, both of whom i’ve written about before. both bands sounded excellent and played well to the packed crowd.

it’s still exciting to hear a band take the most basic, even hackneyed instrumentation of guitar/bass/drums/vocals and make something unexpected out of it. bellmer dolls seem to have three distinct musical personalities that blend together perfectly.

the dirty blonde, boyish drummer appears almost out of place in such a dark rock band. appearance and disposition aside however, he’s the perfect fit. he held down a steady but often syncopated beat while sitting bolt upright and still as possible for someone pounding with such power.

the bassist often had his legs so far apart he seemed in the midst of a slow-motion split. it was just to anchor his position as he attacked his instrument with almost tool-like lines, infused with enough edge and punk spirit to keep them from drifting into prog.

the word "anchor" is apt because without the others holding things down, the nervous energy of singer/guitarist peter would have the band spinning out of control. half the time he would let the guitar fall behind his back or even on the floor. once on the floor, the feedback magically, exquisitely played itself. at one point he actually stood on the neck of it, making me (and probably all guitarists in the room) wince. when he actually played it, his chords and lines were jagged splinters, but showing clear intent rather than pure wild abandon.

several times during the show he lurched off the edge of the stage, swaying ominously over the adoring crowd as if ready to pounce. once he did actually enter the audience, but it didn’t come off as a star trip, but part of losing himself in the music and the moment. doing this quite a lot of course caused some damage, including the drink i set at the edge of the stage before i realized the extent of his roaming. “you owe me a drink, peter,” i called up to him as he tuned up. “you owe me a blowjob,” he shot back without missing a beat. full disclosure: i’ve know peter off and on for years, and while we can hardly be called close friends, the above exchange seems fairly typical from nights at places like happy ending. i won’t be taking him up on the offer, but i’m sure there were plenty of people of both genders in the audience who would have.

all of the theatrics might be called over-the-top or distracting if the music wasn’t so damn good. simple and hypnotic, yet locking into something other than rote repetition, the band doesn’t just ape their punk, postpunk, deathrock, or even cabaret influences. they actually do something that has the shock of the new while keeping some of the basis of the old. this is a band that deserves to be heard and seen.

the title of this post comes from a book about hans bellmer, from whom the band gets their name.