The BellRays

Friday, Feb. 9; Hi-Pointe.

For about a minute there, it looked as if big Detroit-style guitar rock was going to make a comeback. The Hellacopters, Gluecifer, the Streetwalkin Cheetahs -- all presented acceptable facsimiles of Motor City legends, but something was missing: any small shred of originality. Oh, they nailed the superficial style elements -- the haircuts, the clothes, the vintage guitars and the grand riffs. But Detroit rock is more than riffraff playing riff-rock. What about the passion? What about the revolution? What about the capital-S soul?The BellRays are here to tell you about the capital-S soul, brothers and sisters, and they testify not only from the books of Wayne Kramer and Fred Smith; the BellRays also draw their faith from the deep well of Ike and Tina Turner, and their music is all the richer for it. The MC5 played a lot of James Brown in their live shows, and the BellRays obviously have the same love for the raw rhythm and soul of the Stax '60s. Guitarist and principal songwriter Tony Fate has a seemingly endless supply of metallic KO riffs, but when his guitar lets out that wildcat growl, you know he's familiar with Ike's "Garbage Man." Vocalist Lisa Kekaula's powerful sing-shouts come from the same guttural place as a young Tina, but Kekaula is not imitating or ripping off anyone. She imbues "Kill the Messenger" with the righteous fury of Kick Out the Jams-era Rob Tyner, and she burns a white-hot hole through "Blue Cirque," but she does it on her own. Her delivery is pure and strong and honest, undoubtedly influenced by the greats who preceded her, but she is not slavishly following in their footsteps. What Kekaula and the BellRays create is not an homage but the long-awaited continuation of the work started by the radical proto-punks who combined a love of Chuck Berry, soul and political outrage to make the music of the future. The BellRays are future now, and the revolution is just getting started, so don't call it a comeback.

 
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