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Hell's Belles' sweaty, stylish take on AC/DC still rocks

click to enlarge Adrian Conner, left, leads one of the first all-female tribute acts.
  • Adrian Conner, left, leads one of the first all-female tribute acts.

Adrian Conner's parents should have just let her go to rock shows when she was growing up in Seattle.

By forcing Conner to sneak around with friends to see gigs — her first was GWAR and the Melvins at the Moore Theatre — their strict ban on the devil's music is probably what led their adult daughter to spend weekends stripping down to her panties while playing some of the most joyfully nasty rock ever created to rooms of boozed-up dudes.

And Conner wouldn't have it any other way.

As the "Angus Young" in all-female AC/DC tribute band Hell's Belles, she's toured the country regularly, including stops in Spokane, since joining in 2001. And what started as what she figured would be a short-term lark has turned into a real career.

"When I first got in the band, it was, like, hot shit in Seattle," Conner says. "People were freaking out about Hell's Belles. I can't believe people are still into it. It's so cool."

The band tours primarily in the west, where Hell's Belles made their initial inroads as one of the first all-female tribute acts. Bands like Misstallica, Lez Zeppelin and Vag Halen followed in the Belles' path, a form of flattery that eventually limited Hell's Belles' ability to break into new markets, Connor says. The East Coast only shows up on the quintet's itinerary for occasional private gigs.

"The tribute band thing is really played out, and we were lucky enough to be doing it early," she says. "It wasn't really a thing yet when Hell's Belles started. Now there's a flood of people trying to do it. It's kind of like people are just over it.

They're not over Hell's Belles, though. Like the members of the real AC/DC, current singer Amber Saxon's an Aussie, and Conner praises her ability to deliver tunes from both the Bon Scott and Brian Johnson eras with equal power. It takes a special singer to deliver songs like "Big Balls" with all the sneering humor intended, in addition to nightly must-dos like "Back in Black," "Highway to Hell" and, duh, "Hell's Bells."

As we learned from This Is Spinal Tap, there's a fine line between sexist and sexy in rock 'n' roll. And AC/DC have duck-walked Chuck Berry-style all over that line for about 40 years via totally sexist lyrics and undeniably sexy, simple blues-rock.

Putting AC/DC's songs in the more-than-capable hands and throats of five badass women gives them a twist that could probably provide fodder for some Women's Studies grad student's doctoral thesis. Mostly, though, it's just a damn fine night out, hearing Conner and Co. rip into a bunch of rockin' songs with all the energy of the original band — and then some. ♦

Hell's Belles with 3LP, Undercard • Sat, Jan. 17, at 8:30 pm • $13.50 • All-ages • Knitting Factory • 919 W. Sprague • sp.knittingfactory.com • 244-3279

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