I like coming to this small venue on Brighton seafront. It was here that I helped put on Brighton’s first proper hip hop jam in 1985, alongside a certain Norman Cook who was the DJ. But enough waxing nostalgic, The BellRays’ brand of rock/soul/blues is a powerful mix, and something they’ve been doing since the early nineties when they formed in Riverside, California. This is the fifth time I’ve seen them now, and they’ve had a different line-up for four of those five times. Last time I saw them they had a drummer I had previously seen playing for Cody Chesnutt but tonight it’s someone else and there’s a bass player that I haven’t seen before too. However, the core of the band is the husband and wife team of Bob Vennum (playing lead guitar again and not bass) and fiery frontwoman Lisa Kekaula, whose voice goes from soul singer to blues shouter from one bar to the next.
Tonight they’re playing songs from last year’s “Hard, Sweet and Sticky” album along with a few of their older songs. The latest drummer plays powerfully but with a funky rhythm, driving their songs with an energy much like Dave Grohl did for Nirvana. Lisa is on fine form, hammering her tambourine on her hip and belting out the songs with a fervour bordering on the religious. She frequently refers to us as a congregation and asks us over and over again “are you REALLY ready”, to enthusiastic shouts from the crowd. Several times during the set she jumps off the low stage to stand in the middle of the crowd as she sings. She jumps around in her high heels and shakes her afro puffs until you can see the sweat flying off her.
Her husband Bob’s guitar solos are furious riffs accompanied by high leaps and kicks, the bass player is rock solid and the drumming is of the Keith Moon school of showmanship. Their songs go from bluesy soul to high octane rock and the crowd are lapping it up. The band are seriously tight and with Lisa as a formidable front woman I still don’t get why they’re not more well known than they are. I suspect they have a very loyal fan base built up from their storming live shows though.
They finish their set with a two song encore to thunderous applause from the crowd, who have been very vocal and appreciative all night. Lisa and Bob step off the stage and get straight behind their merchandise stall where they happily chat to fans and shake hands, all the while selling their own t-shirts and cd’s. Unpretentious but with a confidence in what they’re doing, The Bellrays call their brand of music “maximum rock and roll” and long may it continue.