The BellRays and The Spores
At The Mercury Lounge, Thursday, May 11.
Reviewed by Josef Woodard
It opened with a sinister little puppet show and ended in an
extended blast of adrenaline, in the line of punk-fortified urban
soul music. Just another Thursday night at The Mercury Lounge in
Goleta, where a bounty of kitschy décor and musical intensity lurks
within the unassuming storefront in the blissfully dead zone of Old
Town Goleta by night. This joint deserves historic hangout status
in the grand timeline of local culture — before this stretch of
Goleta is cruelly dehumanized by the mini-mallers. Those thoughts
might have run through the head of someone at this raucous cool
show by The BellRays and The Spores.
Headlining the show, The BellRays were returning to The Merc, on
the heels of their crackling fine new album, Have a Little Faith
(not to be confused with albums of the same name by Mavis Staples
and Bill Frisell; it’s a title and a philosophy worth repeating).
The band is built around the powerhouse lead singer Lisa Kekaula,
compact in stature but bursting with soulful energy and the
rough-edged timbre of Tina Turner and Bettye LaVette. Such grit
makes her a likely subject for the band’s rocking ferocity, driven
(and sometimes overdriven) by drummer Craig Waters, guitarist Tony
Fate (also the chief songwriter), and bassist Bob Vennum.
Sometimes, it seems like they’re missing a keyboard player. Other
times, this stripped-down “Maximum Rock & Soul” approach seems
At one point early in their set, Kekaula stood up on the couch
in the “front row” of the club and taunted the audience: “Are you
ready to feel, people!?” They were, and soon the couch was shoved
off to the side to allow for a throbbing mass of kinetic anatomy in
the house. At times, The BellRays’ rolling fury of songs suggested
an old-school R&B revue, but toward the end, around midnight,
they were closer to a punk model — like an Energizer bunny
mainlining Red Bull.
Opening the night, The Spores, hailing from Long Beach, played a
kind of post-’80s, post-post-new wave music, but with critical
differences. Again, it’s a woman in the spotlight and the vortex,
being bassist, puppeteer, and vocalist Molly McGuire. She’s a
charismatic oddity, the kind we need more of.