Black Rebel Motorcycle Club Bring New Tunes to The Underground
Last night at a show:
Photos by: Jimmy Warsham
Kings of classic cool rock prove that the years have done little to diminish said coolness, as well as their rocking sound.
When Robert Levon Been and Peter Hayes changed their band name from The Element to Black Rebel Motorcycle Club way back in 1998, they must have realized that there was something about their sound and delivery that was classically cool. Otherwise, naming yourself after a motorcycle gang portrayed in a Marlon Brando movie, a movie which established the classic coolness of one of the hottest young actors of his day, could have come off as pretentious and disastrous.
There’s been nothing disastrous, or pretentious for that matter, about the San Francisco band’s eight studio album career. Unless you consider the bout of flu that lead to the cancellations of a few of the shows scheduled early on in their current Wrong Creatures Tour. Originally scheduled to play The Underground at the Avidxchange Music Factory back on January 29th of this year, BRMC made good on their promise to return this past Wednesday, this time overcoming slight technical adversites, and proved the wait was worth it. BRMC brought their brilliant, and yes, cool as hell, mix of eclectic desert noir, shoegaze, classic rock, and retro rock sounds to The Underground and proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are an American rock institution as tried and true as apple pie and the Fourth of July.
Steeped in the poetic dreaminess and drama that the literary side of their hometown of San Fran inspires, and taking their cues from various American musical traditions, but never falling into a particular genre repetition that locks them into a formula, BRMC paints a lyrical and musical portrait of American cool as well as American popular rock music that is as singular in its vision s it is in its diversity of sound.
“Well, its sounds great up here. Want to come up on stage?” laughed Been while the crew worked feverishly to get the mics back on as the PA system was having some issues at spots during the show. What could have been a disastrous nightmare scenario for a lesser talented, and (once again) cool (and this time cool headed), band turned into an impromptu, and crowd pleasing, unplugged session for BRMC. Been and Hayes launched into “Complicated Situation” off of their album HOWL, and made light of what was definitely a complicated situation. The PAs came back on shortly though, and the show went on. There was only one more snafu with the system at the end of the show when all but one of Hayes’ guitar amps were working during set closer “What Ever Happened to My Rock n’ Roll?” The PA also went out once again during the song, but the crowd lifted the band up, singing the words, for about a third of the performance, before the PA came back on and allowed the band to finish up the show. These two sound issues really were non issues for the band in hindsight, and for the rest of the entire show the sound was as perfect as the notes the band played.
The best thing about seeing BRMC live is not just the opportunity to see the coolest band in rock play their unique brand of rock as is should be heard, but to see them in their natural element. BRMC is not a band that should only be experienced through a set of headphones, although their music is perfectly suited to just that. For all the cool swing and swagger that their music conveys, when they are playing live the energy they throw off is powered by the heat of their performance. It’s possible to be cool (shades, leather jackets, stylish hairdos) and put on a hot show at the same time. There’s no mechanical slickness about BRMC. It’s all searing rock n’ roll energy. Elvis, Jim Morrison, Bono (in his Zoo TV days), and Joe Strummer all cut some of the coolest figures on stage, yet never delivered an icy performance. Add BRMC to that list.
BRMC played a varied mix of their most well known songs along with a heavy helping of newer songs off of Wrong Creatures. “Little Thing Gone Wild,” “King of Bones,” and “Question of Faith,” fit perfectly alongside older tracks like “Beat The Devil’s Tattoo,” “Conscience Killer,” and “Berlin.” Acoustic driven tracks like “Ain’t No Easy Way,” and the shoegaze/psychedelia infected “All Rise” demonstrated the band’s aforementioned range and genre bending talent as these songs fit together seamlessly live.
Before BRMC took the stage and proved that they are true rock and roll heroes with their brilliant and mic adversity overcoming performance, show openers, Pete International Airport from Portland, Oregon and the brainchild of Peter Holmstrom of The Dandy Warhols, got the evening going with their equally brilliant set.
Residing solidly in the neo-psychedelia realm of rock, the atmospheric and beat synth driven band washed the crowd in cool waves of thunderous noise punctuated by sharp guitar and bass lines. Their performance of “Flowers of Evil” off their new album Safer With Wolves, gave the crowd an early peek at, and listen to, BRMC as Been came out to sing leads on the song, just as he did on the album.
“One amp. One band. One crowd, Fuck it.” affirmed Been as the band launched into the aforementioned set closer “What Ever Happened to My Rock and Roll?” It turned out to be the mantra of the evening. Rarely does a band connect and hold the audience in the palm of their performance, so to speak. BRMC is one of the few bands touring and recording now that can hold the attention of their fans with such a singularly diverse sound, even through mic failures and lost amps, and still put on the best show this side of rock.
Remaining tour dates available here.