w/ Night Beats
Photos by Jason Green
The black leather jackets were out in full force for Black Rebel Motorcycle’s recent stop by the Delmar Hall. This isn’t necessarily a surprise given the band’s aesthetic preferences and the seasonably cold weather, but it gave the evening the immediate feel of a little rock n’ roll danger.
Opener Night Beats made for a fitting start to the evening, offering up plenty of fuzzed-out guitars but with more of a laid back garage rock vibe from the rhythm section, sort of a half-BRMC, half-Mooney Suzuki kind of sound. The songs were solidly constructed, punched up with lengthy instrumental grooves that would frequently explode into guitar solo freakouts. The only real demerit comes from the vocals, which were so soaked in reverb that they were 100% unintelligible, like their frontman was singing to you from underwater and two rooms over.
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club took to the stage in evocative fashion with “Spook,” a haunting exploration of soft-loud dynamics, with the band cast in stark silhouette by stage lighting in an eerie shade of green. Next, all three members took to percussion instruments that gradually morphed into the four-on-the-floor beat that opened “Little Thing Gone Wild,” creating a nice, slow burn effect that perfectly highlighted the song’s careening chorus.
“We have a new album, just came out a couple of weeks ago,” singer/bassist Robert Levon Been nonchalantly announced several songs in. “We’re happy to play at least some of it for you.” Talk about an understatement: the setlist was packed with material from said new release, January 2018’s Wrong Creatures, with nine of the album’s twelve tracks making an appearance. That comment, funnily enough, directly preceded “Circus Bazooko,” easily that album’s most divisive track. (Amazingly enough, its loopy organ and circus funhouse vibe only sent a relatively small number of concertgoers running to the bar.) The band was stingy with the crowdpleasers—only four songs from their debut B.R.M.C. made an appearance, and they were all deep into the setlist—but their songs have such sonic consistency that both casual fans and diehards had much to like. Whenever the band’s fuzzed-out guitar churn threatened to become old hat, the band punctuated the setlist with a few expertly placed tracks from Howl, the band’s 2005 foray into a more stomping, countrified sound. The house was packed and the crowd was pleased, though reactions were generally pretty muted…this was very much a show to sway or nod your head to, and I mean that in the best way possible.
About two-thirds of the way through the set, BRMC hit a highlight with the Wrong Creatures track “Carried from the Start,” a song that rode on organ drone and Leah Shapiro’s insistent drumming before the guitars exploded for the chorus, the already-elevated decibel level jumping tenfold. The song ended in a gentle murmur and then the band just disappeared.
A few brief moments later, Been returned to the stage solo. “I’ve been wearing this shirt so long,” he joked, pointing at a vintage Mississippi Nights shirt he had donned for the occasion. “Then they tore the place down and put in a parking lot, like some fucking Joni Mitchell song.” Things turned more somber as Been reminisced about his father, Michael Been—whose band the Call played Mississippi Nights during their 1980s heyday, and who passed away in 2010 after a BRMC show in Belgium—before playing a beautiful rendition of the Call’s song “You Run.” Guitarist Peter Hayes followed suit with his own solo acoustic showcase, this time an O Brother, Where Art Thou?-style turn on the Howl track “Devil’s Waitin’” complete with gently picked Spanish guitar.
The band reconvened for another Howl track, the clapalong “Shuffle Your Feet,” before finally launching into the “greatest hits” portion of the evening. “Love Burns,” the leadoff track from the band’s debut, was punishingly loud, but still not quite the punch in the face that this classic track should be. The Wrong Creatures ender “All Rise” fared much better; the first two or so minutes floated in gently on just piano and vocals before Shapiro’s drums coming in to amp up the drama. Been’s keyboard was facing offstage making for a weird disconnect, but the power of the song prevailed, even as the stage’s strobe lights annihilated everyone’s rods and cones.
It was all just build up for B.R.M.C.’s “White Palms,” an explosive bit of Zeppelin-esque stomp and pulsing psychedelia. This time out, the order of the song was stirred up, with Been singing the “I wouldn’t come back if I had been Jesus…” outro lyrics earlier in the song, before the final guitar freakout, a nice little twist that made the song even better.
The time had already ticked past 11:00 PM before the band left the stage for a few scant seconds between main set and encore, and the crowd, no doubt overheated in all that leather, started to scatter. (In a sort of exodus I have never witnessed, the floor stayed packed and the back stayed packed, but the middle third of the Delmar Hall was almost vacant. Most bizarre.) One last song from Wrong Creatures, “Ninth Configuration,” kicked off the encore. Somehow, some way, the band figured out a way to be even louder than they had been all night, with Shapiro nailing the muscular, Bonham-esque drums as Hayes laid down massive squalls of guitar. The show closed ably, naturally, and perfectly with “Whatever Happened to My Rock ‘n’ Roll (Punk Song),” and while that weird dead zone in the center of the venue may have left one wondering “Whatever happened to the fucking crowd?”, those that remained were treated to the highlight of a night full of highlights from a band who proved from beginning to end that they know exactly what rock n’ roll is all about. | Jason Green
Little Thing Gone Wild
King of Bones
Beat the Devil’s Tattoo
Ain’t No Easy Way
Questions of Faith
In Like the Rose
Carried from the Start
You Run (The Call cover)
Shuffle Your Feet
Six Barrel Shotgun
Spread Your Love
Whatever Happened to My Rock ‘n’ Roll (Punk Song)
Photos by Jason Green. Click to enlarge.