LIVE REVIEW: The BellRays + Los Pepes + The Continental Quilts, The Cluny, Newcastle

Lisa Kekaula of The BellRays performing at The Cluny. Pic: Gary Welford.

Swapping the sunshine of California for the UK on a chilly January night can’t be much fun, but The BellRays brought a real feelgood vibe with them as they brought their punk rock funk and soul show to Tyneside

This was part of an 11-date UK tour celebrating the 30th anniversary of the band, who were formed in Riverside, California, in 1990 by guitarist Bob Vennum and singer Lisa Kekaula, who are now man and wife.

First things first, however, as this was a three-band bill, offering plenty of bang for your buck.

The show was opened by The Continental Quilts, a four-piece punk rock ‘n’ roll band from Gateshead, who recently released their debut 7in single on Madrid-based Spanish label Folc Records.

The Continental Quilts opened for The BellRays at The Cluny. Pic: Gary Welford.

Consisting of Steph (vocals), Bri (guitar), Johnny (bass) and Dick (drums), the band take the best bits of rock ‘n’ roll/glam/pub rock/punk/garage rock and mix them together, with enjoyable results.

This was the second time I’ve seen them, and their super-yob rock ‘n’ roll is sounding really polished – probably helped by a couple of recent support slots with Italian bovver boy rockers Giuda.

The single C’mon (Get Back To) Getting It On (reviewed here) is their best track, but songs like Down In The Basement, Hey! Ho! Brilleaux and Horn Pill Pete show there’s plenty more in the tank, and hopefully we’ll see more releases from them in due course.

Next were a new band to me, Los Pepes, from London, who turned things up a few notches. They call themselves ‘the Motorhead of powerpop’, and they’re not kidding, as their set was a 12-song blast of foot-to-the-floor punk-infused rock.

Los Pepes were second on the bill at The Bellrays 30th anniversary shows. Pic: Gary Welford.

The energy coming off the stage was amazing as they opened with Guilty Pleasures from their 2014 debut album For Everyone, and a little post-gig research revealed they’ve been going since 2012 and have four albums to their name.

Songs like Positive Negative from their latest offering of the same name and I Ain’t The One and the title track from its predecessor Let’s Go! show they’ve got the knack of writing songs with huge hooks and power chords aplenty.

Time, then, for the headliners. Could The BellRays follow the high-octane bar set by Los Pepes? From the opening couple of songs that was never in doubt.

The BellRays’ appearance at The Cluny was part of a UK tour celebrating their 30th anniversary. Pic: Gary Welford.

Their most recent release was last year’s compilation It’s Never Too Late To Fall In Love With The BellRays, and it couldn’t be more aptly titled.

They played for more than an hour and a half, and not one of the good-sized crowd who came to be entertained can have left disappointed.

They opened in style with Bad Reaction from their most recent ‘proper’ album, 2018’s Punk Funk Rock Soul Vol 2, and followed with Mine All Mine from its EP predecessor Vol 1.

The BellRays showed at The Cluny that they can rock hard. Pic: Gary Welford.

Those two releases accounted for maybe two-thirds of their set tonight, which extended to 21 songs, including a couple of encores.

As Kekaula kept reminding us, this was a rock show, and the band showed they can do that with the best of them, with Vennum throwing out power chords and the new rhythm section of Dusty on drums and Bernard on bass locking in right away.

Vennum and the bassist both took a turn at lead vocals, and were fine, but it’s the incredible power and range of Kekaula which makes The BellRays stand out from the crowd.

The voice and presence of Lisa Kekaula make The BellRays stand out. Pic: Gary Welford.

She really is a force of nature, and the soulful presence she brings to songs like Power To Burn and Black Lightning has to be heard to be believed.

The high points were many, but one of my favourite songs of the night was Man Enough, complete with its Led Zep riffing, while fans of old will have loved the encore of Blues For Godzilla from 1998’s Let It Blast – a real blast from the past.

This was the first night I’ve spent in the company of The BellRays, but I hope it won’t be the last, as they put on one hell of a show, which should appeal to anyone who loves good music.

The on-stage chemistry between The BellRays’ founders Lisa Kekaula and Bob Vennum is obvious, as they are married. Pic: Gary Welford.
Gary Welford owner