THE BELLRAYS with FIREBALLS OF FREEDOM at the El Mocambo (464 Spadina), tonight (Thursday, May 3). $8. 416-968-2001.
since the bellrays came roaring
out of Riverside, California, befuddled music journalists have been split on whether screaming rock 'n' soul is better described as Tina Turner fronting the Stooges or Aretha Franklin singing with the MC5.
As usual, the comparisons say more about the limitations of the writers' scope than the hair-raising magic that occurs when a bold soul belter like Lisa Kekaula lets rip with a bunch of Ozzy- and Alice-damaged dunderheads with more wattage than musical finesse.
The implication is that the Bellrays are some kind of throwback concept. That might be true of Kekaula's Now Time Delegation side-project, in which she lends her husky holler to Tim Kerr's punked-up R&B covers, as documented on their stormin' Watch For Today (In the Red) disc.
However, the Bellrays use the emotionally charged rock testimonials of the late 60s as a jump-off point for the righteous rage typical of their Grand Fury (Upper Cut) album. Rants like Stupid Fuckin' People are the Bellrays' own creation.
"There's definitely a connection to what has come before in what we're doing," allows Kekaula before a New York gig. "But I see our music as a logical progression from what was happening in the 60s and 70s, more so than anything that gets played on the radio now. I really don't know where that shit comes from.
"We're working against the segregation of sound that's been going on in rock and punk, which is de-R&Bifying the music. The Ramones played straight-up 1-2-3-4 rock and roll, but there was some real soul there -- a dangerous, sexy quality that groups like Green Day will never have."
Having a front person who can actually sing gives the Bellrays an edge on most of their punk and garage contemporaries, but Kekaula offers much more than a commanding shout. There's something primal at work in the Bellrays bashing that can't be explained in terms of notes and chords. Whatever it is, Kekaula's got it by the kilogram, and she knows how to use it.
"Most of the music being made today is so unsexy, the only way labels can sell it is by putting all these scantily clad models in videos to make you think of sex, because the bands don't.
"There was a time when you didn't need all that tits-and-ass shit -- a good singer or musician could conjure all that in your mind. You can't listen to a P-Funk record without feeling the sexual power of that music.
"Just recently, I saw a 30-year-old clip of the Ike and Tina Turner Revue, and you could see the sex just oozing off the stage. If anything close to that were happening right now, people would spontaneously combust!"