As if it weren't bad enough the Vikings hauled their frozen Nordic keisters around the world (or, at least, what passed for the world in 1000 A.D.) to rape, pillage and plunder every society they sailed across in their longboats. No, far worse is what their fellow Northern European descendents have done in the 20th century--mounted an imperialistic cultural crusade that continues to this very day. As we speak, whitey is using his pale agents in the WTO to spread his virus across the globe, making the world safe for Ikea, Volvos and the Cardigans...just what Indonesia needs, really. Almost makes you wish the bloodthirsty Vikes were still around--then at least a broadsword and stout heart might make for a fair fight.
What's still more horrifying is when you see those embattled cultures gladly handing over their history to the profiteering Caucasian invaders. Like the fact that the most popular beverage in China is now Coca-Cola. Or that starving, impoverished Muscovites dish out a week's salary for six McNuggets.
Or, closer to home, that Keb' Mo' represents "traditional blues" to many suburban shoppers.
Kevin "Keb' Mo'" Moore's exercises in relaxed pop--a comfort-fit blend of easygoing croon and acoustic plucking--are, indeed, rife with definite Delta blues overtones. Its appeal, however, is similar to that of Bonnie Raitt: It's blues-based music that's assured, affable and--most
But from the sepia-toned cover photo of Mo' on Just Like You--intentionally reminiscent of the famed Robert Johnson snapshot--to PR insistence of Moore's "absolute authenticity," there is a clear intent to convince listeners (or, more to the point, white listeners) that Keb' Mo' is as genuine an article as Johnson, Honeyboy Edwards, Bukka White or Big Bill Broonzy. That he sings more like James Taylor than John Cephas is irrelevant. And that he doesn't seem possessed by the spirit of God-questioning, life-wrecking existential dread that virtually defines "the blues" merely makes him easier to sell to suburbanites whose concept of poverty is not being able to afford a new car to fill that empty third garage slot. For those who fall for Gap advertising slogans like "Kerouac wore khakis," Keb' Mo' is packaged as a direct link to a Delta history they are told is soulful, deep, meaningful. More meaningful than their $5,000 stereos, even.
But what about that other genre co-opted by the Man--rock 'n' roll? Even Billy Joel's hip to the fact Elvis didn't invent rock. Acknowledging that debt isn't enough, but it is a step in the right direction.
The BellRays, though, do more than take a step--they let that foot follow through and ram their boot ankle-deep in rock 'n' roll's ass. By reinserting Stax/Volt soul into primordial Detroit punk, the bonfire-hot BellRays steal back rock 'n' roll from those who would bleach it into a sputtering nothingness. A more impassioned outpouring of rage and righteousness you will rarely see. But like the members of Bad Brains, 24-7 Spyz, Living Colour and others, fireball belter Lisa Kekaula is, sadly, an anachronism: a black face in a contemporary rock band. That's about as common as intellectuals at an Insane Clown Posse concert, and even with Kekaula's fervent R&B outcries and inflamed stage presence, it's doubtful the BellRays' multiracial mix will reach beyond white rock clubs (or the praise of white rock critics).
Yet what most needs to be understood about the BellRays is that they are not "about" race. Unlike Keb' Mo', music-biz marketers don't need to exhume historical corpses to create a contrived legitimacy for the BellRays. Their riot-starting soul-punk rallies stand defiantly on their own--and the bare-knuckle bloodiness of their sound directly confronts the comforting anodyne of a manufactured traditionalism. Being down with the BellRays won't make you a good
liberal who "feels the pain of the underclass." But if your guts burn with the napalm of false promises and damaged dreams, the BellRays are singing your song, regardless of race. Those looking to buy soul like they buy stocks are advised to seek their sanctification elsewhere, because the BellRays write gut-busting anthems like "Stupid Fuckin' People" about such money-corrupted consumers, not for them.
And if they don't like it, there's always that Cardigans album, you know?
Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 SW Broadway, 796-9293.8 pm Wednesday, Jan. 24.$22.50-$32.50 advance.All ages.