Kekaula out the jams...
Poured into a tight-ass black cocktail dress, eyes shut, mouth agape, Lisa Kekaula prowls the stage and belts out her soul. The BellRays may have been knocking round LA for nearly a decade, but their Poptones compilation and headline slot at this NME Bring It On Night have pushed them into the now: they bulldoze their way through an hour, barely allowing us time to draw a breath inbetween.
Spinning between lascivious soul-funk, muscular psychedelia and fiery garage rock, Kekaula’s consistently powerful voice is the linchpin. As the songs break down, fall apart and rebuild themselves, she strikes another snap-worthy pose and howls “There’s gonna be a war”. The ten minutes that follow are suitably raucous: ‘Fire On The Moon’ is an instant hit, ‘They Glued Your Head On Upside-Down’ sharp garage-pop.
And, if at any point The BellRays seem to lose their way, Kekaula holds them in check. A frontwoman of the rarest breed: supremely confident, possessed of the voice of a female James Brown, she pulsates sexuality. When she grinds up against guitarist Tony Fate and curls round husband/bassist Bob Vennum, the two respond by pulling out all their most clichéd moves, holding their guitars low over the audience, windmilling away while drummer Vince M bashes relentlessly behind them.
It could be 1968, 1977 or 1989, and The BellRays‘ music could be burning out of a sweaty inner-city basement instead of floating off across deserted Brighton beach to the Channel. That they’re here and now is all that matters. This is music spiked with attitude, but – just as importantly – it’s music to dance to. And dammit, you will dance.
Kimberly Taylor Bennett