Tuesday, August 31, 2010
The Bellrays at Spaceland, 8/21/10
A lot of the bands I write about are fairly well known, successful groups, but not everyone makes it through. The Bellrays' biggest success so far has been selling their song "Revolution Get Down" for a Nissan Xterra commercial a few years ago (it was fairly ubiquitous; I can't find it online, but chances are you saw it if you watched TV in 2004). That's a shame, because they've been making damn fine music, 'punk rock & soul' as they call it, since the mid-90's. Almost two decades in, and they still tore up Spaceland last weekend.
There have been many lineup changes over the years--check out their biography for an amusingly perfunctory rundown--but the constant has always been the husband-wife duo of Bob Vennum and Lisa Kekaula, the nerdy white rocker and the fiery black wailer. Kekaula's voice is one of the best I've heard in rock, mixing attitude and a hell of a range. Someone once described them as AC/DC with Tina Turner singing lead, but I'd say toss in some MC5 and the Stooges to really have an idea. Their most recent album, Hard Sweet and Sticky, was a little bit of a letdown, but they came to Spaceland seemingly reinvigorated by the new rhythm section of bassist Justin Andres and drummer Stefan Litrownik, a couple of kids probably half Vennum and Kekaula's age.
Opening with the Motown-tinged "You're Sorry Now," the band started a little slow before tearing into "Changing Colors," the first track from their late 90's gem Let It Blast. "I got a maniac on my tail, I'd kill him if I could," Kekaula belted on Maniac Blues, two minutes of punk ferocity that officially started the moshing in front of the stage. A couple songs later she stepped down into the crowd, this short woman with enormous hair shoving men twice her size if they bumped her too hard. "I'm Coming Down" and "Infection," both from Hard Sweet and Sticky, put their studio versions to shame, Vennum invoking Angus Young with his one-legged strutting across the stage. Maybe the AC/DC comparison was more apt than I thought.
About halfway into their too-brief, fifty minute set, Kekaula announced they would be playing a bunch of new songs from their upcoming album Black Lightning, and amazingly she hit a whole 'nother level with her voice. Of the new batch, the title track was the best, riding a wicked riff in classic Bellrays fashion, but all of them sounded great, and made me very anxious for the record to come out. Then at the end, I had one of those moments that only exist at shows. They played "Voodoo Train," one of their best and a great call and response song for the audience, and the sweat flew and the arms pumped as we sang "All aboard!" and "Ride it!" In the middle of my euphoria my mind went to "Blues for Godzilla," if only because it's another of my favorites and, like "Voodoo Train," an album closer. Naturally, in such a small venue they could hear my thoughts above the din, and much to my disbelief she was soon singing "I'm a monster, with a fever!" I don't really remember the next three and a half minutes, but I remember the feeling.