It has been quite a journey of up and downs for Black Rebel Motorcycle Club (BRMC) over the past fifteen years since coming together on the west coast of the USA, and after an absence of three years, the rockers returned to Bristol at O2 Academy on Tuesday, August 27th, to share a back catalogue from their previous six albums, and from the latest offering, Specter at the Feast (QRO review).
Support came from Lonely the Brave, a five-piece group from Cambridge who are causing quite a stir with various U.K. rock magazines and radio DJs. They are guitarist Mark Trotter, bassist Andrew Bushen, singer David Jakes, drummer Gavin “Mo” Edgeley and second guitarist Joel Mason.
The sound is fast hard and there are possible influences from Peal Jam, Queens of the Stone Age and the Deftones – who they recently supported. All three guitarists leapt around energetically, slamming guitars and clearly relishing the opportunity to play before a gradually filling room. The confidence was obvious and clear sign of a band that know they are on the edge of some great things if the just push a bit harder.
The first thing that set the band apart was that lead singer David Jakes stood throughout the set, sideways to the audience in the relative shadows nearer the back of the stage, grappling with his mic and rarely taking time to face the audience, but his vocals were intense and totally connected within the music and not too dissimilar to the aura of other frontmen like Ian Curtis. The band play a solid set for the best part of 40 minutes, which was politely and well received by the Bristol audience. They are sure to go on and headline the Bristol 02 Academy in their own right in the very near future, as their debut album The Day’s War is being hotly tipped to ensure that 2013 is going to be one heck of a year for Mr. Jakes and the rest of the band.
The stage was cleared and stripped back to please any minimalists present as though the BRMC road crew had recently completed a night school course in feng shui. The ample stage had a couple of guitars spread well apart for bassist Robert Levon Been and guitarist Peter Hayes, with a sprinkling of effects pedals. On the back wall hung an elegantly, evenly pleated plain black curtain and resting below it Leah Shapiro’s drum kit, pushed back as far as possible.
Pitch darkness welcomed the band as they took to the stage of the now packed hall, with all standing space on the balcony, steps and by the bar taken up as people maneuvered to get a good vantage point. The band started up with “Hate the Taste” from Feast, with single floor spotlights beaming up minimal illumination on each band member, apart from the occasional brief blinding white lights that accompanied the chorus, lighting up the whole room and making those members of the audience – generally dressed in black (like the band) in the balcony and rafters visible, like a collection of bats hanging from the side of a cave.
Each album was represented with at least a couple of tracks being aired to ensure that everyone would go home happy, but the focus was on the latest release with all the new songs being well received by the packed venue. This was especially evident with “Let the Day Begin” a cover version of Robert’s fathers dad’s band The Call, but a fitting tribute to Michael Been who had sadly passed away whilst backstage as the band played in 2010, and it must bring all sorts of emotions for the joint frontman.
The tempo was maintained as Hayes led the ever increasing mosh pit through another new track “Rival”, with backing vocals from Been and a continued impressive drumming from Shapiro, who continued to keep pace with proceedings smashing her kit in perfect time, but yet remaining cool and beautiful.
Feet stomping abounded with “Ain’t No Easy Way” from the band’s Howl, with Hayes blasting some American midwestern folk through his harmonica and arms raised by the whole floor amongst the crowd. Things then moved back to some serious moshing with “Berlin” from 2007’s Baby 81 (QRO review – where have the years gone?), still as timeless as ever and just as relevant and fresh today and still asking us all the important question, “What happened to the revolution?” and what are we doing about it?
There were times for a calming of the pace with “Screaming Gun” and the delicate “Returning”, before then launching into far more bombastic crashing deluges of thumping rhythms and racing effects drenched and distorted guitars as the building shook to “Conscience Killer”, before retreating again to two or three slower numbers – the perfect workout some might say.
Largely the band concentrated on moving from one track into the next without anything being said, except for the brief comments from Been to thank the audience. Anything longer than a ‘thank you’ was largely difficult to understand under the mumbling west coast drawl. Hayes with his greased back hair was silent throughout, but again his ability with his guitar cannot be questioned, often standing in the shadows at times with just an outline of his frame visible, and with the orange glow of his burning cigarette in his mouth now and again, giving his hiding place away.
Past the halfway mark and a real ease in the pace as just Been remained on the stage with his guitar to play “The Line” from Howl, which at times the talking of the audience might over, but did not appear to put the singer off. Been departed to rapturous applause and Hayes took his turn with the beautiful “Some Kind of Ghost” from Feast, a bluesy, gospel number with more than a nod – as with several BRMC songs, relating to life and relationship with the lord above. A stunning portrayal of struggle contained within the feel from the music and lyrics.
The band returned with “Fire Walker” and “Lullaby”, the latter with it’s almost glistening, glittering, dreamlike guitar sound witnessed on some latter Cocteau Twins albums, and it really worked. These tracks raised the tempo, but ever so slightly as the air of anticipation grew as an expectant audience awaited some of the inevitable crowd favourites which would lift the roof off.
It came with a welcome from Been as he spoke down his mic, “I fell in love with a sweet sensation / I gave my heart to a simple cord / I gave my soul to a new religion” and BANG!!…. BRMC kicked in with a track from their 2001 debut that ensured people were going to sit up and the past fifteen years in history. Needless to say the room went nuts with heavy-handed bouncers trying to play tug off war with crowd surfers, who in turn were being pulled back from the meathead bouncers. One lucky fella managed to break free, floating away across the top of the audience, but not before giving his attempted captors the middle finger of defiance. BRMC went to finish with another favourite “Spread Your Love”… on a second take after the first attempt came to an abrupt halt as Hayes appeared to have some guitar problems. However, it wasn’t an issue, as the audience carried on the song for them, bouncing in time a-cappella style, bringing an appreciative smile from the band.
BRMC returned with a couple more tracks for the encore, the riotous “Six Barrel Shotgun” and “Sell it” from the latest album – six-plus minutes of rhythmic brooding menacing darkness, and met with an onslaught of pent-up anger for a chorus full of growling and hissing guitars that surged forward from the stage, causing the crowd to react, expressing itself to reflect the audio and visual sight of the members of the band giving it 100%, the music is that important. By the time they eventually left the stage, the group had powered there way through a full stuffed and gorged two-hour (feast) set, which is remarkable given the power and the energy required and excreted by both band and the audience when it comes to a night in the company of BRMC. Heartfelt waves and thanks were exchanged to the audience as the Californian rockers left the stage and the reaction of the crowd suggest that they will be hoping for another swift return by the band and an eighth album as soon as possible.
1. Hate the Taste
2. Beat the Devil’s Tattoo
3. Let the Day Begin
5. Ain’t No Easy
7. Screaming Gun
9. Conscience Killer
10. Shade of Blue
11. Weight of the World
13. Funny Games
14. The Line (Been acoustic)
15. Some Kind of Ghost (Hayes acoustic)
16. Fire Walker
18. Whatever Happened To My Rock & Roll
19. Spread Your Love
20. Six Barrel Shotgun
21. Sell It