The BellRays at The Edge of The Wedge, Southsea REVIEW: 'The band were clearly in a celebratory mood'

Downsizing a gig must always be a tough decision – it’s not great for the venue or promoter, let alone the egos of the act.

Friday, 17th January 2020, 10:07 am
Updated Friday, 17th January 2020, 10:08 am
The BellRays at The Edge of The Wedge, Southsea, on January 15, 2020. Picture by Paul Windsor

But, as a punter, the choice to move Californian soul-punks The BellRays from The Wedgewood Rooms to its smaller sibling next door, The Edge, was definitely the right call. Far better a packed room than a quarter-full space that sucks all of the life from the show.

And if the band were phased by it, they were far too professional to show it.

On this opening night of their UK tour, the four-piece were clearly champing at the bit and raring to go.

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The BellRays at The Edge of The Wedge, Southsea, on January 15, 2020. Picture by Paul Windsor

With the band marking their 30th anniversary this year, as well as the release of a new best of, they were clearly in a celebratory mood.

Their last album of original material was 2018’s Punk Funk Rock Soul Volume 2, a perfect, Ronseal-esque description of what these guys do.

Drummer Dusty Watson demonstrates throughout why he was in surf-guitar legend Dick Dale’s band for years, and is also part of the current line-up of garage-rock gods The Sonics. Whether going hell-for-leather or getting funky, he’s a mesmeric performer.

And he’s matched by his partner in rhythm, bassist Bernard Yin – a tightly-coiled spring, his veins bulge as he plays.

The BellRays, Lisa Kekaula, left, and Bob Vennum, at The Edge of The Wedge, Southsea, on January 15, 2020. Picture by Paul Windsor

But this is the Lisa and Bob show. Band founders, as well as being husband and wife, the pair display a near telepathic rapport at times.

Lisa is a commanding frontwoman, all too aware of the awesome potential of her voice. During mid-set high-point Power To Burn she goes walkabout in the crowd entreating us to ‘Touch the power!’

And guitarist Bob peels off the licks, shredding on the punkier numbers, but also able to show a lighter touch on a bluesier track, which also serves to showcase just what Lisa can do with that incredible voice.

As they finish with the propulsive title track of their 2010 album Black Lightning, sweat is dripping from the walls, and the crowd bays for more. There are glances at the promoter, but sadly they’ve played right up to time and the curfew is enforced.

Here’s hoping they don’t make us wait another 15 years before a return visit to Portsmouth. And next time, they deserve to fill the bigger room.