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Shot Down in Flames: We can't bear to tell our lovestruck writer that this woman is too cool for him.

Girls Got Rhythm

All-girl AC/DC cover band Hell's Belles has got big cojones

By Mike Connor

METAL MAY BE a testosterone wasteland, but when it comes to the strange-but-true AC/DC cover band Hell's Belles, all you nonbelievers who don't think girls can rock the house down in a hailstorm of Angus-type mayhem are sorely mistaken. Witness fans from all walks of Rawk converging on a Belles show: Punk rock grrrls and stoner metal burnouts revel in abandon with prom kings and queens, all united to worship these five girls that sound as good and loud as those four guys from Australia--and they're way hotter. Moving right along then.

My love affair with AC/DC started in the '80s, when the band was often blaring on the stereo and my older sister's friends were getting so wasted that they soon ended up in her water bed, half-naked and in need of constant supervision. It was a job which I was often assigned because I was very young and therefore one of the few sober people present. I remember Brian Johnson yelling something about getting shaken all night long while the captain of the cheerleading team mumbled something about "unngggffmmlllggucckk," and then frowned as she struggled to unclasp her restrictive bra.

Flash forward to the present day and how my love of AC/DC united me with my future wife, Hell's Belles guitarist Adrian Conner. Now, in every piece of reporting, there is an element of stalking. It's the nature of the beast: identify your subject, and then find out every tidbit of information you can about it. Most reporters don't end up digging through trash bins after tour buses have unloaded their refuse in them, but that's all I'm going to say about that.

In any case, about halfway through their set I was ready to seal the deal with Adrian. Sure, we hadn't "met" and she didn't yet "know who I was." But she is the dreadlocked, catholic-schoolgirl-outfit-wearing lead guitarist who plays the role of Angus Young in the band, and with whom I accidentally fell in love.

Let Mike Put His Love Into You

My job at Metro Santa Cruz provided the perfect excuse for me to get personal--dare I say intimate?--with Conner, the new Belle who last fall replaced former lead guitarist and Hell's Belles creator Amy Stolzenbach, who apparently burned out on the touring insanity of a cover band that earns its livelihood by rocking the fuck out of venues all over the West Coast.

"I started out as Malcolm, the rhythm guitar player," says Conner. "When Amy left, I had a month to learn my part."

And yet by the Belles' last show at the Catalyst, Conner was clearly channeling Angus, ripping out his legendary guitar solos note for note while scurrying around the stage, making Angusesque lip & mouth gestures. For the AC/DC-impaired, think Mick Jagger's lips when he's doing the rooster dance, and then imagine that Mick suddenly has a seizure and you're getting warmer. I once had a roommate who spent a month playing and rewinding The Beatles' "Yesterday" to no avail, so I couldn't help but wonder how the hell she nailed the Angus character and the solos so quickly.

"By constantly listening to AC/DC, figuring out the songs, the solos--I bled AC/DC for that month," she says.

Her crash course in cock-rock paid off. Conner's blistering work on the SG (Angus Young's signature guitar) will put the most discriminating Belles skeptics in their AC/DC-loving place. Conner admits that she was more of a Led Zepplin kinda chick before Hell's Belles, but luckily she saves all that frou-frou subtle, melodic stuff for her solo album which, by the way, is excellent. I own it despite the fact that after we are married I can easily steal a copy from her pile of merch in the garage.

Those About to Rock

Conner doesn't re-create the AC/DC mystique all on her own. Lisa Brisbois, Mandy Reed and Steffanie Skolik are rock solid in the rhythm section behind her, leaving only the vocals in question. And that's a tough slot, since Om Jahari faces the formidable challenge of emulating both of the band's famous lead singers.

Luckily, Jahari has no problem with either vocal style. She paces the stage like a predatory cat as she rips her vocal chords this way and that, using the voice of Tina Turner as a medium through which she channels Bon Scott and Brian Johnson by turns.

But it's Conner who stole my heart--after seeing her burn up the Catalyst with her blistering Angus chops and cute little Catholic schoolgirl garb, I'm forever damned to be a groupie. I can't wait to make the transition to husband-roadie--I've always dreamed about having a rock-star wife, and it's finally about to come true. My name change is almost official--from Connor to Conner--and that makes it official ... right?

Hell's Belles plays the Catalyst Saturday at 9:30pm. Tickets are $10 advance/$12 at the door. Mos Generator opens.

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From the June 5-12, 2002 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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