Even when not on their best night, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club will still be one of the best rock shows this year.
Despite some turbulent years of late, which included changes to their label and lineup, it was “business as usual” for Black Rebel Motorcycle Club (BRMC) at Chicago’s Metro Thursday night. And one could certainly infer from the sold-out venue that business is good. Touring in support of Beat the Devil’s Tattoo, released only a few weeks ago, BRMC wasted no time in rolling out the new material, opening with a throbbing rendition of “War Machine” and then quickly increasing the tempo for “Mama Taught Me Better”. The band, never one to shy away from the new or old in their catalog, followed with a pair, “Love Burns” and “Red Eyes & Tears”, from their very first record, B.R.M.C.. Ultimately, it was their new record that would be the foundation of the band’s two-hour long set.
Founding members, Peter Hayes and Robert Levon Been, stood like bookends, at opposite ends of the stage trading lead vocals from one song to the next. While Robert engaged the crowd a bit, stepping up to the front of the stage, Peter, with his hair slicked back, maintained an icy and determined presence that actually helped convey the mood of shadowy isolation that his thick guitar chords emanate. Set in back against flashing white lights (it was easily the brightest BRMC show I have seen) sat the band’s newest member, drummer Leah Shapiro. Her stint on tour with the Raveonettes--another band that enjoys digging amongst the past and applying fresh coats of guitar fuzz to songs--made her transition on this night appear seamless, and even welcome with the added dimension: a female anchor behind male, angst-ridden music.
If there are, in fact, two sides to Black Rebel Motorcycle Club--the rootsy, southern gothic side of Howl and the more distorted, exuberant rock found on Baby 81 and their earliest records--then it was definitely the rock side being showcased. The air was filled with heavy numbers like “Berlin”, “Weapon of Choice” and “666 Conducer”.
Although it was a solid show, it was not the band’s best show. More importantly, it was apparent they are in a good place musically. As the rocking live rendition of “Aya”, from their latest release, did attest, the new material already feels right at home within the band’s catalog. In fact, by shedding some of the gloss that coated their last record, Devil’s Tattoo has already surpassed it.
Photos by Rory O'Connor