A familiar ring: Hell’s Belles keep fans coming back

After two decades of rock, the Seattle-born tribute band can still pack the house.

 

The AC/DC tribute band Hell’s Belles has been performing across the U.S. for the last 20 years.
Courtesy of Hell’s Belles

A sold-out crowd sporting leather jackets, grease-stained hats and every version of denim imaginable filled the Knitting Factory, a concert venue in downtown Spokane, Washington, on the last day of February. Camaraderie and a sense of familiarity permeated the scene: Two women embraced, remarking on how long it had been since they’d last run into each other, while strangers wearing their favorite classic rock T-shirts chatted between the opening sets. As concert-goers crammed in closer, a woman behind me was met with laughs when she implored everyone: “No farting.”

Then the lights went down, and some familiar faces took the stage: the Hell’s Belles. Since its inception in Seattle in 2000, the all-female AC/DC tribute band has been rocking concert halls, bars, casinos and outdoor venues, bringing the hot guitar licks and nonstop wailing of the original Aussie rockers to audiences across the Northwest and beyond. 

Their performance lets listeners relive — or imagine living in — a comfortingly loud world, where all you have to do is raise your fist, bob your head and let the speakers rattle your eardrums.

In an age of endless online scrolling, a constant parade of shiny new consumer objects and ever-shrinking attention spans, the value of the expected endures. The Belles’ high-fidelity imitation keeps people coming back year after year, packing shows in the same venues. Their performance lets listeners relive — or imagine living in — a comfortingly loud world, where all you have to do is raise your fist, bob your head and let the speakers rattle your eardrums.

Though AC/DC’s songs are rife with sexual innuendo and the objectification of women, the Belles plowed right through them, undeterred. The band may come in a female package, but what they’re selling isn’t a reinterpretation; they remain faithful to the original product, with lead vocalist Amber Saxon channeling the raspy, often screaming style of AC/DC’s raucous vocals.

With her blond dreadlocks and schoolgirl-style skirt and corset, revealed after she ditched her black tie and white button-up, Adrian Conner brought the energy and onstage antics of original lead guitarist Angus Young to the show. Her high-energy performance was punctuated by one-footed high-steps across the stage, leaps from the drum podium and Young’s classic move — mooning the audience.

For Conner, who has a music career outside the Belles in Austin, Texas, where she lives, playing the part is freeing. “Doing your own music and bringing new music to people is really difficult,” she said in an interview before the Spokane show. “I feel really vulnerable.” But acting the part of Angus is different: “The music is so good that I don’t have to second-guess if somebody’s not giving me a reaction that I want.”

Video courtesy concert attendee Jeff Fenner.

In Spokane, the crowd was hanging on every solo and power chord. Hell’s Belles-branded light-up devil’s horns head-banged throughout the audience even as the rockers charged through the Powerage album, which contains exactly zero radio hits. A man next to me with a jacket full of band patches from the likes of Pearl Jam and Metallica kept up word for word, even on the more obscure tracks. When the band segued to the popular Back in Black album, a rising chorus of fans shouted along, throwing up their fists: “You got me ringing hell’s bells.”

The two hours of hard-charging classic rock were unpretentious and low-budget, with only a simple fog machine and video montage added to the squeals of the guitar and Saxon’s full-tilt vocals. The only brief interruptions to the music came when Saxon laid down the law on men pushing to the front of the crowd. “You’re being an asshole,” she said, pausing before belting out a chorus. The incidents were a reminder that even though the Belles are rockers to their core, they don’t play into the macho stereotypes that accompany the genre.

Sherri Lee Vogel, a self-described ’80s girl in an Aerosmith shirt from just across the state line in Post Falls, Idaho, rode the rail in front of the stage with a group of friends for the entire show. She first saw the Belles a few years back, and now she makes sure to catch them whenever they come around. Last year, Vogel met the band on a booze cruise show in nearby Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. “I love the girls,” Vogel said. “I call them my girls,” she added with a laugh. “They almost rock it better than AC/DC.”

The next Hell’s Belles shows are in Utah: March 13 in Park City and March 14 in Salt Lake City.

Carl Segerstrom is an assistant editor at High Country News, covering Alaska, the Pacific Northwest and the Northern Rockies from Spokane, Washington. Email him at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor

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