The B-52s’ Cindy Wilson and Orlando’s music scene converge to honor Billy Manes, bedroom project Bellows is much more live

Cindy Wilson |
Cindy Wilson | Photo by Jim Leatherman


This week has been all Billy Manes. Across the city and even the nation, the news and feeds have been dominated with remembrance and reaction to the far-too-premature loss of this local treasure. It's been an outpouring that's commensurate with his footprint and is probably the only thing good about this whole tragedy. The shockwave even permeated the music scene – locally, of course, but beyond as well. Billy's beloved Duran Duran tweeted a farewell to the lifelong superfan. On stage, the B-52s' Cindy Wilson came to play and dedicated her performance to Billy, whose final published interview in Watermark was with her.

After about 40 years, Wilson is currently, finally focused on a solo career. This emergence is notable because this is a musician – established and certified superstar though she may be – going back to her original indie roots and to the art of creation itself. Right away, her new electro-pop material is a departure. But on stage, the performance by her and her band was sometimes raw, untamed, weird even. Though Wilson has certainly earned the right to it, credit her for coming with a new exercise of fresh expression and not a rote display of legacy. It's the return of a true artist and not simply the inertia of a careerist. All of which makes it happily coincidental – but probably not accidental – that the day before her Orlando appearance came the announcement that her debut album, appropriately titled Change, will be released in November on venerated indie label Kill Rock Stars.

In truth, though, the show ended up a happening that was larger than any of the featured acts. Wilson happened to arrive to a city still reeling in heartbreak but flowing over with love. And this became a scene rally that culminated in a sellout crowd that was packed with a living gallery of Orlando music history and, most notably, Billy's husband, Anthony Mauss – all in one place for the same purpose. A normal prospect of fun, somewhere along the way, became an event of importance. And the scene at this show is what happens when a community channels grief into fellowship.

Cindy Wilson, the Pauses and the Sh-Booms were all good and made for a powerhouse bill. But nothing could've compared to the pulse of the house. What was in our hearts was in the air – and when it all aggregated, it was a unifying catharsis. It was palpable, visible. People greeted each other wider, the hugs were deeper. At some point in the night, I realize that these gatherings are how everything we do and everything we are in the community lives forever. I miss you, Billy. I love you, Orlando.


Bellows – the vehicle for musician Oliver Kalb – is part of the Epoch, a Brooklyn arts alliance that includes indie luminaries like Eskimeaux, Told Slant and Small Wonder. Unlike some loose collectives, members of the Epoch aren't just affiliated in name only. They're all over each other's records and support each other on the road. The principals of the aforementioned acts, in fact, made up Bellows' live touring band.

As a bedroom project, Bellows' recordings exude a kind of wondrous intimacy. They've got a lo-fi indie-folk heart but operate beyond with an expanded and inclusive palette. The effective use of technology allows some of Kalb's exploring pop songs to reach and soar to grandeur. But live, the music breathes and swells in a way that even the recordings don't. With electronics, depth and just plain gusto, their stage sound is almost a different beast altogether. Yeah, like a real rock band.

Though the positive additions of live force and the dimensionality of three solid singing voices is straightforward math, the result is even greater than that. Their live stance is, by intent, a more powerful lean that not only reframes but concentrates some of Kalb's melodic filigree. The affecting quality of his music was still all there, it was just injected with more purpose and point, like a recalibration that suddenly set the world right. For Bellows, what is wonder on record is majesty live.

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