MAXIMUM ROCK AND SOUL

The BellRays / Dallas Frasca / Band from Texas

Sunday August 9, 2015, Newtown Social Club

There’s more than a few ways you could describe the BellRays. The first that comes to mind is Tina Turner fronting the MC5, but kids these days have no idea who I’m talking about. Hmmm. Beyonce fronting… what’s a cool garage rock band the kids enjoy? Do they still exist?

A more appropriate term would be criminally under-recognised. They’ve been wowing audiences with their blend of rock and soul for over 20 years and really deserve more. It’s paradoxical – this is a band that clearly should be playing to larger audiences, but that would rob them of the intimacy of smaller venues. As wonderful as it can be to see stadium gigs, there’s nothing to match being 3 feet away from the band. Some of the greatest musical experiences of my life have been in beer soaked hovels – the Datsun’s epic 15 minute blast through Freeze Sucker at the Metro or Radio Birdman blowing the roof off the Gaelic Club by opening with Do the Pop come to mind. But I digress…

The BellRays are rock and roll, in the most elemental sense. They’re the sort of band that should be huge, that make me want to stand on street corners handing out albums like a deranged preacher. Obviously, they aren’t going to be to everyone’s tastes and I accept that, but I’m not going to call those people tone deaf idiots. No, I will not be insulting them at all, mainly because I’m sure my parents are on that list. (I was raised on Slim Dusty and Johnny Cash, which may be why Iron Maiden’s Number of the Beast made such an impact on my life)

It’s a revival meeting feel to the show, with the tiny venue only amplifying things. True, sound issues plague the set (Though some of those could be down to the earplugs I was wearing), along with the occasional blackout of the stage lights, but they push past it. Drummer Stefan Litrownik has a magnificent knack for glam rock stick twirling, while Bob Vennum (Guitar) and Justin Andres (Bass) do their thing with magnificent skill, albeit leaving the front rows having to dodge guitar headstocks being swung out near them.

And then there’s the singer. Lisa Kekaula is a massively afroed FORCE OF NATURE, whether marching into the crowd 3 songs to ask, nay DEMAND whether the audience are ready for the show, laying down on stage when we aren’t loud enough, exhorting us to believe that this is our second Saturday night or telling us they’re about to play a quieter number so the front rows shouldn’t use this as an opportunity to start talking, as she can FUCKING HEAR YOU. That sort of thing may sound corny now, but when you’re 3 feet away from it, you OBEY. Besides, I don’t think it’s too much to ask that the audience match the band’s levels of energy?

We got most of the Black Lightning album and a smattering of older songs, the highlights being the title track and Everybody Get Up, and a storming mid set cover of Whole Lotta Love, which if you didn’t get caught up in, well, you might be dead. (Have you checked your pulse recently?) We ended with an encore of Revolution Get Down and a thundering Blues for Godzilla, with some thank you’s and a warning that if the merch stand closes early as it did last show, there’ll be blood. All that followed was the trip home, which featured an interesting conversation with a guy who’d had to leave halfway through (Owing to his mate getting fucked up and needing help). Normally I only meet those people on trains…

The BellRays. They have the songs. They have the talent. Now can the rest of the world please discover them?

PS: Many apologies to the support bands who I missed. In my defense, I was ill enough I probably shouldn’t have gone to the show in the first place. Based on the merch sales, they seemed to go over quite well.

It’s only rock and roll, but I bloody love it.

Today has been One of Those Days. The lead up to Christmas in television land is always fairly awful, filled with deadlines and system breakages. There are a few things that can help me get through this without going nuts. My wife. My hobbies. Friends and family. But rock and/or roll music is possibly what helps the most. Those who know me should be well aware of my obsession with Iron Maiden, the Ramones and Radio Birdman, so I’m going to talk about some of the slightly more obscure bands on my playlist at the moment.

The Bellrays:

Easy description: The MC5 fronted by Tina Turner.

Take a garage rock band, put a top of the line soul singer on vocals and you get the Bellrays. Capable of stunning beauty and ferocious rage, they play a mix of rock and soul like few other bands I’ve heard. Look, just watch this and try to tell me I’m wrong:

Maximum rock and soul!

Gloryhammer:

Easy description: Early 80’s D&D games set to music.

A side project from the singer of Scottish pirate metallers Alestorm, they’re both amazing and silly in equal measure. The band’s first album, ‘Tales from the Kingdom of Fife’ is based around an alternate history of Scotland, where the evil wizard Zargothrax invades the city of Dundee with an army of undead unicorns under his control. If that sentence doesn’t make you either A: pick up a set of dice or B: want to air guitar, then this band may not be for you.

Any band that wears armour on stage, they have my attention.

The Hellacopters:

Easy description: A guitar solo looking for a song

Started by former Entombed drummer Nicke Andersson (Who shifted to guitars and lead vocals), they evolved from a scrappy bunch of maniacs (Debut album Supershitty to the Max! was recorded and mixed in 26 hours) to classic rockers in the MC5/Sonics Rendezvous Band tradition (Andersson started a soul project with Rendevous Band singer Scott Morgan called The Solution, whose albums are worth hunting down) Never ones to let good sense get in the way of a guitar solo, they split amicably in 2008 – a promised live album from the final tour still hasn’t materialised.

Or as I call it, my teenage years

Other bands I could talk about include the Powder Monkeys (An Australian Motorhead), the Dictators (Whose debut Go Girl Crazy! predates the Ramones), the Lime Spiders (Whose classic song Slave Girl was on the playlist at my wedding, but owing the incompetent DJ’s didn’t play) or the Celtic folk/punk rock of Flogging Molly and the Dropkick Murphys. But that is another story…