The Luchagors

Ex-WWE wrestler turned band leader struggles to win them over in Auntie Annie's

When Green Day – who are scheduled to perform at Belfast’s Odyssey Arena in October – first came to Northern Ireland’s capital, it was to play for 100 drunken punks at a postmen’s social club near the docks with no stage and a thrown-together PA. The December 1991 show at Richardson’s on Victoria Street, now a branch of Northern Bank, has since passed into local gig-going lore.

Lita, the world-famous WWE Diva, has gone the other way with her career. The wrestler-turned-singer’s first appearance in Belfast was at a sold-out WWE Raw event at the Odyssey in April 2006. Tonight, having retired from wrestling in 2007, she’s back in town to jam with her punk rock band, the Luchagors, in the less cavernous confines of Auntie Annie’s Porterhouse.

You couldn’t swing a cat in the backstage area (let alone pull off a headscissors takedown or Russian legsweep) and the route to the stage goes past the gent’s toilets. There are 150 or so people in the crowd, and a couple of local support acts. If it feels like a comedown, Lita, who now goes by her real name Amy Dumas, isn’t showing it.

The raven-haired performer – at five-foot-six, shorter in real life than she appears on TV – is hanging around the merchandise table, chatting with fans and signing autographs for bulked-up wannabes and black-clad goth girls. Keen to play down her past, 34-year-old Dumas is very much in the moment.

Before taking the stage, the vocalist tells CultureNorthernIreland how she and her bandmates – guitarist Shane Morton, bass-player Jay Leslie Hedberg and ex-Wednesday 13 drummer Racci Shay Hart – enjoy challenging audiences’ preconceptions. ‘I like to be pretty ballsy in my claim that we can expect to exceed your expectations,’ she says. ‘We love proving people wrong, night after night.’

In Belfast, the four-piece does just that, pile-driving through an hour of hard-edged rock ‘n’ roll. Dumas commands the crowd from the get-go, while Racci brings up the rear with the most gonzoid display of drumstick-twirling showmanship this side of Tommy Lee.

A chant of ‘Hey ho, let’s go!’ threatens to herald yet another cover of ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’, but it segues into a Luchagors original and the moment is saved. Their own music is a mixture of 1960s proto-punk and 1980s hardcore, with an abundance of B-movie references and Misfits-style backing vocals.

Selections from 2007’s self-titled debut album are rapturously received in the mosh pit, but there are grumbles around the room. The Luchagors are average, they say. Dumas is out of key, they complain. The dissenters (many of whom seem to be disgruntled wrestling fans) are missing the point. This isn’t a slick, testosterone-pumping metal act in the vein of Chris Jericho’s Fozzy. It’s a garage rock band, with the emphasis on having fun.

Dumas takes the abuse in her stride, and the number of t-shirts, CDs and ill-fitting bandanas being snapped up at the end of the night suggests most here have been won over.

Andrew Johnston