Sibling Sounds: Wild Belle at the Blind Pig
Last night was not Wild Belle’s first time playing at the Blind Pig. In fact, the group played one of its first ever shows there years ago, opening for the Afro-beat dance band Nomo in what was something like a family reunion. Elliott Bergman (saxophones, keyboards) is in both bands -- he founded Nomo while at the University of Michigan -- as are Erik Hall (guitar) and Quin Kirchner (drums), and Bergman's younger sister, Natalie (vocals, guitar), started guesting with Nomo when she was just 16. (Bassist Kellen Harrison is the only non-Nomo-affiliated member of Wild Belle.)
With a reserved “Hello, Ann Arbor” from Natalie, the band took the stage and launched into the first three tracks from 2016's Dreamland: “Mississippi River,” “Losing You,” and the title track. Natalie often seemed lost in her own world as she sang, but she was also a gripping stage presence, dressed in a loose white blouse and velvet pants emblazoned with white snakeskin stars.
Because the band fuses so many sounds -- reggae, funk, electronica, dance, soul -- it’s easy to assume Wild Belle might not sound the same (or as good) live as on it does on records. But the band was tight and its sound was clear. In addition to Natalie's smooth, sultry, and powerful vocals, much of the band’s distinct sound comes from the specialized keyboard Elliott plays as well as his saxophone contributions. He would step away from the keyboard, pick up his enormous baritone saxophone, and blast riffs and solos atop the band's deep grooves.
The song that drew the most excitement last night was the sassy “Giving Up On You." As the band played the first notes of this anthemic and powerful breakup tune, people rushed toward the stage to dance and sing along. “You’s a bad boy and you can’t behave / You’s a bad boy and you never change,” Natalie sang slyly.
“Love Like This,” off Wild Belle’s 2013 album, Isles, also drew smiles from the crowd. “If you’re here with a love, now’s the time to grab them,” Natalie said before launching into the raunchy, sexy, and lovely tune. After the lines “I like your smile / I like your style / Everything about you,” the song segued into a demonstration of her vocal range with the chorus, “I’ve never known a love like this this.”
But it wasn't just older songs in the Wild Belle's setlist: The band released two new singles this summer, "Untamed Heart" and "Morphine Dreamer," both of which were played last night.
Although most of Wild Belle's lyrics, usually written by Natalie, are about love, heartbreak, and relationships (she went through a brutal breakup while writing much of Dreamland), several of the band's songs have taken on more political undertones with recent world developments. Although Natalie has said she penned “Throw Down Your Guns” about a relationship that was falling apart, the song has received press for being anti-gun violence and about peace.
Natalie spoke the most when introducing one of the band’s final songs, “Our Love Will Survive.” “The world is pretty fucked up right now,” she said. “We just had an awful earthquake … we have earthquakes, we have hurricanes, we have a terrible president … and the only thing that’s going to get us through is love.” She left the stage and came down into the audience, encouraging everyone to sing along with the lyrics, “If the sun don’t shine / If the world’s on fire / If the oceans rise / Our love will survive.”
After encoring with Elliott’s rousing sax solo, the band flashed peace signs. “See you next time, Ann Arbor,” said Natalie with a quick smile. We’ll be waiting.
Elizabeth Pearce is a Library Technician at the Ann Arbor District Library.