Posted by: Jeff | April 7, 2010

Live Review: Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club seem to get nicked by a lot of people for a lack of originality.  It is true that they represent a rock and roll revival of sorts – very few bands play rock music these days without a significant nod to the hipster, grunge, metal, or classic rock set.  BRMC seem to do so without apology, staying true to their guns in lieu of much experimentation or hook-writing.  It works well, though I suppose I can understand that critics may be disappointed to see such obvious talent forgo innovation in favor of a consistent sound.

In reality though, there aren’t a lot of bands that sound quite like BRMC.  It’s true that they haven’t followed or set many larger trends, and that they came to national attention in the same general category as The Strokes – a band considered more prolific not for their records so much as their influence on other bands.  BRMC don’t write pop songs – even at their most downtempo they make rock music – there isn’t much unexpected or exciting about that.  But they still have a niche.

BRMC lays blues grooves over wall of sound shoegazer fare that would be at home on Jesus and Mary Chain records.  Though comparisons with even JAMC – the comparison I hear most often – aren’t quite fair, either, as their southern rock groove frequently has more in common with an early Kings of Leon record than anything put out in the 80’s.

Openers Alberta Cross were, to me, what I think of when reading reviews lambasting BRMC as generic and unoriginal.  The openers’ guitarist was quite a talent and held his own on stage, but the rest of the outfit seemed to be going through the motions, playing unoffensive alternative fare that hardly tickles anyone’s fancy.  And the singer looked like a cracked-out Traveling Wilbury, with his suede vest and matching hat.  Even from the front of the Club, the evening didn’t exactly get off to a roaring start.

Enter Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.  The opening fuzz of “War Machine” was so much louder, so much more raw than anything put forth by Alberta Cross that it was as if the Club went from 0-60 without so much as a “hold on to your butts” as warning.

Founding members Robert Been and Peter Hayes share both guitar and vocal duties, with both sometimes trading in the six-string for a bass to lay down a deeper layer of distortion.  Drummer Leah Shapiro is a relatively new addition to the band – formerly the touring drummer for The Raveonettes, she never looked completely comfortable on stage – in fact, I think she may have smiled twice the entire evening – but she was a lot of fun to watch as she furiously worked the kit while bouncing atop her perch on a stool.  To be fair, it must have been tough to keep up with the sheer abandon of a set that ran over two hours, and her proficiency with material she never recorded is an impressive feat.

New tracks that sound just a hair above mediocre on the latest BRMC record underwent a transformation live.  This was a band playing at full tilt, amping up the fuzz and distortion to wash the Club in sound.    The bass on tracks like “Aya” rumbled like a menacing beast ready to strike.  “Beat the Devil’s Tattoo” built to a raucous crescendo of joint chorus – a turning point in the set, after which BRMC led the crowd into a series of fan favorites encompassing especially impressive cuts from 2007’s Baby 81 album.  This was rock at its most sinister – the fuzzy guitar dripped with danger, and Been looked positively badass on stage strutting with his bass and posing in all black.

BRMC played a total of 22 tracks, with two encores spanning a total of 10 songs.  They dug so deep into their back catalogue that at times they solicited selections from the audience.  Much to our delight, my friend’s call for 2001’s “Rifles” was met with a smile from Been, followed by “You want ‘Rifles’?  We can do that.”

Along with “Rifles”, many of the highlights were from earlier albums – “Shuffle Your Feet” and “Spread Your Love” saw the audience at its most engaged, singing along to every word.  The opening bass line of “666 Conducer” was met with roaring appreciation.  But it was slow-burner “American X” that was the true highlight of the evening.  Spanning nearly ten minutes, this track was epic live, with a frenetic instrumental ebb and flow that built and released tension all the way to the finale.  As the lights faded to black and the sound reverberated around the club, the entire audience roared for a second encore.  And despite the fact that it was late on a weeknight, the crowd was pleased when BRMC retook the stage for an additional four songs.  What a night.

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – Beat the Devil’s Tattoo

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – Spread Your Love (Live)


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