The BellRays still skim the rim of the glory they deserve. Maybe it's the curse of the 909 (their records come out in Hollywood, but they sleep in Riverside), or maybe it's because fancy-haircut contemporaries such as the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion absorbed all the celebrity cutie-pie attention while the BellRays were recording their first (and still best) album, Let It Blast, in their practice space and autographing scorch marks into the carpet at LA in-stores. Ten years ago, they were—and are now—a no-bullshit band, a little too old and a little too smart to ration much energy into the kind of beauty-pageant fluff-ups even the best musicians have suffered to get attention. And so Winona Ryder never showed up in one of their videos, and the formidable silhouette the BellRays should cast over all other knobs-on-11 rock & roll is still only visible in certain dim bars.
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Their newest is Red, White and Black, the Alternative Tentacles reissue of a 2004 U.K. release on Poptones (who also handle the Hives overseas) and the first time (about time, too) a really top-tier American independent has signed on with the BellRays. Reddoesn't quite match Blast, which bolted down such a ferocious definition of the BellRays' sound—Stooges/Sonics Rendezvous proto-punk with singer Lisa Kekaula's mid-'60s Tina Turner vocals shooting flames out the front—that everything since is just an adjustment toward perfection.
But besides slightly out-of-character pop charmers such as "Find Someone to Believe In" and "Making Up for Lost Time" (which put early Beatles chord progressions through the MC5 backline), the wild free association on "Poison Arrow" (with Kekaula leading the band into a kamikaze nosedive: "We are the dead!/Glass is broken/Newborn choke on their own reflection!") and the Nissan Xterra car commercial that is "Revolution Get Down," the BellRays on Redremain the BellRays who were known and loved back on Blastand its follow-up, Grand Fury—though they could stand to graduate to well-known and well-loved. Best-kept-secret status must have been fun for a while, but it's gotta be feeling a little tight.
ALSO:ATMOSPHERE:Rapper Slug didn't get the soul till he started soul searching, mustering up a nervous caffeine-jag delivery to match the black humor, blue sentiment and morosely transparent confessions of inadequacy that put him right at the front of the unfortunate new genre of (sigh) emo rap. He's smart, sure, but he's also insecure—"Atmosphere finally made a good record/Yeah, right, that shit almost sounds convincing!"—and he counterpoints decades of happy hip-hop shit-talking with apocalyptic, sensitive-guy dejection. But producer Ant's calculated minimalism—"Birds Sings Why the Caged I Know" sounds like 10 minutes on the drum machine over a funk 45 from New Orleans, at least until the screaming starts—leaves plenty of white space for Slug to fill with the kind of long-dark-night muttering that would make you call the campus counselors on your dormmate. Or would make you cringe along in lonely sympathy—because he doesmake the shit sound convincing.
THE BELLRAYS WITH VON IVA, THE SPORES, AND ROCK & ROLL SOLDIERS AT ALEX'S BAR, 2913 E. ANAHEIM ST., LONG BEACH, (562) 434-8292; WWW.ALEXSBAR.COM. SAT., 8 P.M. $8. 21+; ATMOSPHERE WITH POS AND GRAYSKUL AT THE GLASS HOUSE, 200 W. SecoND ST., POMONA; WWW.THEGLASSHOUSE.US. FRI., 7 P.M. $15. ALL AGES.