THE SOUND AND THE FURY: What's it take to be the best band in Los Angeles? Ask the BellRays, who have been bestowed with that honor two years running by the LA Weekly. The band released its debut, Let It Blast (Vital Gesture), in 1998 to unanimous critical acclaim, and was recognized as one of the truly buzzworthy bands of the 1999 South By Southwest music conference in Austin. Judging by their newest release, Grand Fury (Upper Cut Records), the first criterion is uniqueness.

Grand Fury explodes out of the gate with nine seconds of inspired feedback before launching into "Too Many Houses in Here," which continues the atonal sonic assault until vocalist Lisa Kekaula jumps into the mix, lending shape in the form of actual melody, intoning "There's fever in this house and it will not go away / There's a darkness at the door, gets darker every day," with soulful bravado.

And I do mean soulful. Kekaula's voice recalls a less glossy Motown vibe, but that doesn't begin to do it justice. Hell, it's even grittier than the most stacked of the Stax singers, and she knows just when to channel her demons into a gospel wail. All this while the rest of the band--songwriter/guitarist Tony Fate, bassist Bob Vennum and drummer Ray Chin--bang away at a late 1960s-inspired garage-y yet somehow still post-punk din. Imagine the Stooges, the Sonics or MC5 as fronted by the love child of Janis Joplin and Aretha Franklin, and you're on the right track.

At a time when bands like Limp Bizkit and their ilk are cramming the airwaves with supposedly venomous indictments of how rough it is to be a young white guy all alone in the world, and embarking upon tours called the Anger Management Tour to prove it, the BellRays instantly expose what a crock it all is simply by sounding angry and--here's the kicker--sincere. The band sounds so damn sure of itself that it doesn't have time to contemplate its rage, but instead, expresses it purely.

Elsewhere on the new disc, "Stupid Fuckin' People" rails against a know-it-all consumerist culture with a wall of raw sound backing the sentiment, reducing the power of rock to its basest essentials: power-chord punk fury and pure energy. It's all the more remarkable, then, that what follows is "Have a Little Faith in Me," which tempers the mood with a groovily soulful croon that, with trumped-up production, could easily be mistaken for a long-lost mid-'60s gem of a radio R&B-pop song. It provides only further testament to the band's greatness that neither sounds out of place.

For all of its recorded successes, I suspect that the BellRays are likely one of the better live acts on the planet today. And we get the pleasure of finding out for ourselves when the band takes to the stage of Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St., on Friday, January 5. The show kicks off at 9 p.m. with The Invisible Men and another opening act to be announced. Cover is a paltry three bucks, and further questions can be answered by calling 622-8848.

STRINGS TO THE PAST: Tucsonans will get a rare opportunity this week to witness performances of classical pieces written specifically for mandolin and piano, courtesy of Richard Walz and Mari Tomizuka. Mandolinist Walz is French-based, and pianist Tomizuka, who's resided in Europe for over a decade, has just relocated back to Tucson, her hometown. The two musicians originally began as a Baroque violin and fortepiano duo, touring Europe, until Walz rediscovered the mandolin, the first instrument he learned to play as a child. The rediscovery led to his unearthing of many long-lost classical pieces written specifically for mandolin, and he has continued to make great strides in researching this little-known musical area.

The duo collaborated on the CD Mandolin Treasures from the Golden Era (Plucked String Disc), and their show this weekend is being billed as the same. In addition to works by mainline composers such as Beethoven, the show will also feature performances by lesser-known Italian and German composers Rafaelo Calace and Vincent Neuling.

Catch Richard Walz and Mari Tomizuka live at 3 p.m. on Sunday, January 7, at the PCC Center for the Arts, 2202 W. Anklam Road. Tickets are $10 for general admission, $8 for students and seniors, and $5 for children under 12. Advance tickets may be purchased at Hear's Music, Antigone Books and at the Center for the Arts box office, or by phone at 206-6988.

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