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[whitespace] Hell's Belles
The Ladies Know How to Rock: Adrian Conner, Laura Derig, Amy Stolzenbach, Mandy Reed and Om Johari get charged up over the music of AC/DC.

Stiff Upper Lipstick

Hell's Belles rock the girls' side of AC/DC

By Kathleen Wilson

THE FIRST QUESTION to ask when considering Seattle's wildly popular cover band Hell's Belles is, "Why AC/DC?" The answer to that would be, "Because they rock." The next question to ponder after discovering that Hell's Belles are in fact an all-female AC/DC cover band is, "Can they play?" The answer to that query: They rock.

Immediately, as the five women take the stage and the familiar gong-sounds open the tribute band's namesake song, it becomes apparent that the women are up there not because they want to be cute or simply get attention. The ladies are up there because they love to rock. Quite frankly, they kick ass.

And other than the fact that they are five American women rather than four Aussie guys, audiences would be hard pressed to tell the difference between AC/DC and Hell's Belles, given HB's dedication to playing AC/DC's songs with precision and devotion. On more than one occasion the band has been told they manage to "out-AC/DC" even AC/DC, and given Hell's Belles' screaming, headbanging performances, it's a compliment that's not entirely based in fawning overenthusiasm.

Outfitted in a schoolgirl's uniform, band founder Amy Stolzenbach stamps and struts as she tackles Angus Young's legendary fretwork. Lead singer Om Johari powers effortlessly between the vocal hallmarks of Bon Scott and Brian Johnson. Adrian Conner, Mandy Reed and Laura Derig make up the thundering rhythm section, and together the girls put on a show that has the audience hollering for more until it becomes sadly apparent that Hell's Belles have vacated the stage for good.

Guys swoon and pump their fists in the air at the front of the stage, while women stand on stools and sing the songs word-for-word in the background. The all-around gender reversal places the awestruck, admiring men at the screaming fit position, stage front. Johari is as provocative as she is talented, and her sexy, prowling stage presence is intimidating and exciting at once.

Hell's Belles have been a Seattle phenomenon for two years now, and their popularity has grown exponentially with every show. Aside from being tapped to open a Megadeth arena show, the band is often called upon to perform at high-profile benefits and fundraisers--so huge is their devoted fan base--and recently helped sell out a breast cancer benefit held at Paul Allen's famed, and cavernous, Experience Music Project. A West Coast tour had the band playing in packed houses on nearly all dates, and every local show, no matter the size of the venue, finds the band playing to capacity crowds.

Hell's Belles were very nearly called "Venus With Arms" after Stolzenbach heard "Touch Too Much" playing on the sound system as she worked her day job at American Music. "Hell's Belles" was suggested as a better name, and with that, the band was off. What followed was perhaps the quickest cult following known to any band--tribute or otherwise--and an instant succession of sold-out shows in increasingly larger rock clubs.

After audience members persistently inquired whether the band had any CDs for sale (a request that initially prompted an incredulous Stolzenbach to suggest that anyone interested in purchasing recorded material head over to the local Tower Records and simply pick up any album from AC/DC's vast catalog), Hell's Belles decided to record an album for themselves. Stolzenbach swears it'll be packed with all the hits, from "Whole Lotta Rosie" to "Back in Black," with some obscure surprises thrown in, too. As yet the band is unsigned, but it's rumored that label interest is picking up and the band is enjoying its popularity.

It's natural to assume that a group of musicians whose allegiance to a legendary, still viable rock band would find them hoping to meet their idols, and Hell's Belles came so very close. As AC/DC set up to play a show in nearby Tacoma, a hurried conference was scheduled between the two bands, but negotiations fell through. Despite the fact that the real AC/DC shows no signs of slowing down, Hell's Belles show no indication of waning interest either, and it's no unlikely situation that the two bands' paths should cross in the very near future. For those about to rock ... Hell's Belles, and their ardent fans, salute you.

Hell's Belles play Saturday (Dec. 8) at 9:30pm at the Catalyst, 1011 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. The Hitch and Fire Sermon open. Tickets are $8 adv./$10 door. (423.1336)

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From the December 5-12, 2001 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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