Saturday, November 24, 2007

Live Review: BRMC

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club


House of Blues San Diego

Sleepy Sunday night shows: Notorious nights when crowd energy and enthusiasm runs low to non-existent. As a band, you can approach it a few different ways: Take it down a few notches and perform a more acoustic/intimate set, or refuse to acknowledge that it is indeed Sunday night and come out with guns blazing like it was a Friday night. This is rock n’ roll anyway, right?

The guys in Black Rebel Motorcycle Club choose the later. Sunday night saw the band going for the rock, and a few technical cobwebs aside, the band proved that the musical progressions on 2005’s Howl and the new Baby 81 continue to make BRMC a band worth your time and hearing.

With the first strums of the dirty-blues riff opener “Took Out a Loan”, the band found the song’s soul swagger and started stomping something fierce. Not letting the built up momentum slip, the band upped the ante by unleashing another new song off Baby 81, the grooving, head-nodding “Berlin.”

With its defiant chorus behind a steady Nick Jago -approved backbeat; “I’m fighting just to breathe as I get back on my knees/I say help me somebody, help me somebody” the band was breathing life into the new songs and showing glimpses of the musical dexterity that now flourishes in their songs. If anything, the band showed that the soulful songwriting displayed on HOWL could be transferred to the electric setting and not get lost amongst the volume and amp buzz.

The new song’s wetted the crowd’s appetite for all things BRMC, and vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Robert Levon Been decided to go for the jugular early by riffing into the addictive bassline intro of “Spread Your Love” off their first album. This quick detour to the past was returned to the present with the start/stop tempo of “Lien On Your Dreams”, complete with a Brit-Pop tinged chorus and bridge.

Traditionally a show/set closer, the early setlist appearance of “Heart + Soul” off their second album, Take Them On, On Your Own allowed the band and the crowd to slow down and journey through BRMC’s kaleidoscopic psychedelia. It also displayed a new confidence and relaxed stage presence that allowed the songs to breathe and show off the musical chops the band has earned after six plus years on the road.

A quick blast of current single “Weapon of Choice” and the band gave the crowd a treat with the narcotic-noir shuffle of “Red Eyes & Tears”. Sub-atomic bass tremors erupted from bassist Robert Been’s amp cabinets as guitarist Peter Hayes let monsoonal showers of feedback gently cascade over the crowd in a bath of red light.

Been handed his bass over to a utility player whose name escapes me and headed stage right for the black upright piano. A Beatlesque rendition of Baby 81’s “Windows” followed. This in turn led to the night’s first entry from their acoustic-based Howl album: An achingly beautiful rendition of “Promise”, complete with Been on vocals and Hayes on the trombone was a definite high point of the evening.

More acoustic-based HOWL songs followed during the second half of their 85 minute set: “Ain’t No Easy Way” got the crowd stomping like it was a back porch hootenanny, and after abandoning the song halfway through, Robert Been to a second stab at “Mercy” off the band’s HOWL Session EP and was rewarded by loud applause.

Performing solo, Hayes played stirring renditions of “Fault Line” and “Devil’s Waiting”. The crowd attempted to assist Hayes with gospel-like background vocals on “Devil’s Waiting” and one could see Hayes break his concentration and take a step back in amazement. It was as if the magic fourth wall had been broken and a synergy between band and audience had been forged.

It’s always great to hear a song break from the constraints of its recorded version and stretch its wings in a live setting. One song that greatly benefited from this scenario is “666 Conducer” off Baby 81. On the album, the song motors along, but live the sinister tones bubbling underneath the surface emerged, especially when Hayes repeatedly spits the vocal lines, “You’re a 666 conducer /How do you do the things you do sir?”

And while the rage simmered below the surface with the previous song, that energy exploded with a revved up Punk Song (Whatever Happened to My Rock “n Roll) and continued with the goth-tinged “Need Some Air” and the seductive ten minute opus “American X”.

The corporate clock of the House of Blues was ticking away and the band closed its set with the funeral procession organ of “HOWL”. Not accepting this as the end, the audience yelled its collective throat hoarse until the band returned for a quick rendition of “All You Do Is Talk” and with that they were gone. The serenity of Sunday night was restored and the crowd quietly shuffled their feet out the door.

Aside from a great show, BRMC showed that with HOWL and now Baby 81, their musical journey continues to inspire and maintain the band’s rep as one of the best kept musical secrets in America.

Took Out a Loan
Spread Your Love
Lien on your Dreams
Heart & Soul
Weapon of Choice
Red Eyes & Tears
Not What You Wanted
666 Conducer
Punk Song
Need Some Air
American X
Ain’t No Easy Way
Fault Line
Devil’s Waitin’
All You Do is Talk

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