Catching some Rays
February 2, 2001
BY JIM DeROGATIS POP MUSIC CRITIC
The MC5, Iggy Pop and the Stooges, the Amboy Dukes and other bands from
Detroit in the late '60s continue to inspire underground musicians in the new century,
but Los Angeles' BellRays are one of the few groups to grasp that Detroit's finest
drew as much from soul and R&B as they did from rock. It was that combination of
Motown and metal that made those bands unforgettable.
"We can't see where punk ever got divorced from that in the first place, because it's
a very natural merger," says BellRays vocalist Lisa Kekaula. "That's where most
the sexuality of rock 'n' roll comes from, that particular fusion. It's conveniently
eliminated--Pat Boone was doing the same [crap] then that 'N Sync is doing with
the R&B of today. There's nothing sexy about that, that's for sure. We're trying to
bring soul and rock back together in a way that really makes you feel it."
"Maximum rock & soul," the BellRays call their music, and they brag that
being kicked in the gonads by James Brown. That isn't just idle boasting.
A sassy, sexy African American with a voice that burns like a flamethrower,
Kekaula is an imposing presence onstage, as she revels in the righteous indignation
of tunes such as "Too Many Houses in Here" and "Stupid F- - - - -'
the band's aptly titled sophomore album "Grand Fury" (Uppercut). Imagine Aretha
Franklin or Chaka Khan reincarnated as punk rockers. Just don't call Kekaula a
"From what they've read about our band, people come expecting to be lured in by
the diva thing, but that's not what you're getting when you come to see the
BellRays," she says. "You get a whole show that encompasses that, but that can
happen because we have such competent people involved in the music process."
In other words, the BellRays are a band, and they have been for nearly a decade. At
the core of the group are Kekaula and her husband, Bob Venumm, who started out
on slash-and-burn guitar, switched to bass to record "Grand Fury" and 1998's
equally ferocious "Let It Blast," but is once again on six strings after the
"Bob's and my vision is real clear--we want total world domination," Kekaula
and she isn't laughing. "We've always had that goal; it's just that it's hard to
when you're working with other people that don't really have the same vision."
Reconfigured with a new rhythm section, the quartet is committed to touring behind
"Grand Fury" to raise the band's profile outside L.A., where it's at the center
Detroit-fueled scene that also includes the Streetwalkin' Cheetahs and the B-Movie
"We want to get out there and show people," Venumm says. "We've been
the anchor, waiting for people to give up their jobs and that kind of stuff in order to
be able to go out and tour and push this thing. Now we don't have to wait anymore;
we are going to be everywhere."
What is the force that continues to propel the BellRays after 10 years as one of the
coolest bands you've never heard of?
"I don't know, aside from true love," Kekaula says. This time, she does chuckle.
"What else could there be?"
"We are in love, and we totally believe in what we're doing, and we have for a long
time now," Venumm says.
"Sometimes I think we're in love with the band more than each other," Kekaula
confesses. "But it's kind of hard to draw the line where one starts and the other
The BellRays perform at the Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, at 9 p.m.
Thursday, with Electric Airlines, the Spiveys and Bob City. Cover chargeis $8.
Call (773) 276-3600.
* * *
Speaking of hell-hath-no-fury anti-divas, the inimitable Arista Strungys leads the
Chicago trio Loraxx in celebrating the release of its second album at 10 p.m.
Saturday at the Fireside Bowl, 2648 W. Fullerton (773-486-2700).
Recorded once again by Steve Albini, "Yellville" (Automatic Combustioneer) is a
worthy followup to 1998's "Canada," as well as a logical progression in a
Chicago brand of noisy art-rock. With tuneful apocalypses like "Dusters" and
the disc's short, sharp shock of 11 tunes in 20 minutes assures Loraxx a place in the
pantheon that includes the Jesus Lizard and Albini's Shellac. The only mystery: Why
the heck isn't this band on Touch & Go?
In some quarters, those comparisons may seem like hyperbole, but they're justified:
Strungys is a galvanizing front woman with a shredding guitar style and a vocal roar
that evokes Joan of Arc screaming while being burned at the stake. (Nothing like
that Catholic school training to fuel some punk-rock fury.) But the band's real
strength lies with bassist Santosh Isaac and drummer Elliott Talarico.
Like the mighty Jesus Lizard, the Loraxx boys groove with the subtlety of James
Brown's best rhythm sections, yet they hit home with the power of a pile driver.
Albini captures them well--it's what he does best--but the band should be
experienced live to be fully appreciated.
Also on the bill: N-O and Three Dollar Bill, a like-minded quartet whose 2000
album "Insurrection" just caught my ear. The group doesn't pack quite the same
wallop as Loraxx, but it compensates with a cutting sense of humor, as on Jane
Dark's memorably creepy anthems, "Everybody Wants a Pony" and "Femme
Find Loraxx and Three Dollar Bill on the Web at www.loraxx.com and
Pop music critic Jim DeRogatis co-hosts "Sound Opinions," the world's only
rock 'n' roll talk show, from 10 p.m. to midnight Tuesday on WXRT-FM (93.1).
E-mail him through www.jimdero.com.
Lucky Boys' confusion stems from their illusions
Jim: Right on the money with your review of the Lucky Boys Confusion show
at Metro [Jan. 15]. They obviously have been listening to a lot of 311 and
Sublime, but I would rather have them echo these bands instead of Limp Bizkit
or the Bloodhound Gang. The constant talk of smoking pot, drinking beer and
sex is lame, and the home movie footage they showed from Los Angeles was
grandiose; however, they are extremely talented. I hope Kaustubh Pandav
focuses more on singing (his rapping is average at best), the band plays more
reggae-type riffs (that is when they are at their best) and they stay humble
(they should remember that most of their fans are teens from suburbia).
Jim: I just wanted to tip my hat to you for the right-on-par review of the LBC
show at Metro. I couldn't have said it better myself.
Dear Mr. DeRogatis: You were a bit harsh on the Lucky Boys in today's [Jan.
15] newspaper. Judging by the crowd, you were the only one who had a bad
time. It's normal for parents not to enjoy the same music as their kids, so
maybe the Sun-Times should send a younger critic, not one so cynical and
jaded. The Lucky Boys did not deserve your sarcasm and "holier than thou"
attitude. Time to retire, you cranky old man.