Friday, April 2, 2010

Whatever Happened to My Rock ‘n’ Roll

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
31 March 2010: House of Blues, Cleveland, Ohio

I have wanted to see Black Rebel Motorcycle Club since discovering them when their original self-released album was redistributed by Virgin in 2001. At one point, I was supposed to cover one of their shows for PopMatters, but something came up (I honestly don’t rem
ember if it was the band cancelling the show or something that kept me from attending) and that didn’t materialize. In the years since, stars have never properly aligned. Until now.

The evening started out with an early dinner in Akron. We told the waiter we were headed to a show when we asked for the check. He asked us which one, a
nd when we told him B.R.M.C., he said he saw them the night before in Columbus and that it was an awesome show! Tracy and I sort of laughed on the drive up to Cleveland about the odds of having a server who saw the same band the night before in another town – a server we probably had a good 15 years on, no less.

Between the packed East 4th Street district, a home Cavs game, and the B.R.M.C. show, Downtown Cleveland was hopping for a Wednesday night. Traffic – both foot and car – was heavy, but the atmosphere was fueled by the gorgeous spring weather.

Because it was a general admission show, we wanted to get there early enough to snag some seats at the House of Blues, and we were among the first into the hall. We headed to the upstairs balcony to see what was available, and asked one of the security guards if the barstools lining the back of the balcony seating were reserved or not. (Typically, the lower level is GA standing room only with some open barstool seating, the balcony itself is reserved seating, and behind the balcony is barstools and more GA standing room only. We have attended shows where those barstools are held for guests of the band and press – and have taken advantage of those seats during my PopMatters days when covering shows.) The security guy told us all the seats were open, and we did a double-take and reconfirmed with him that he meant not just the barstools, but the entire balcony. Armed with that revelation, we promptly took up residence in the front row, stage right overstuffed and comfy balcony seats for the remainder of the night.

So we totally scored on the tickets (which were buy one, get one), and on the seats… all that was left now was to be entertained.

Opener Alberta Cross made their way through a half-hour or so set looking a bit like a poor man’s Lynard Skynard. The English five-piece’s up-tempo songs (the one-two set-closers in particular) were an enjoyable enough diversion as the theater filled up.

Around a quarter after nine, Peter Hayes, Robert Levon Been, and Leah Shapiro walked on stage and began a blistering two-hour set that defied both conventional concert theatrics and staged chatty banter in favor of a straight-ahead rock and roll show. And that’s really the best way to describe the trio: They ooze rock and roll, embodying everything cool and brooding and dangerous and old school about rock, looking and sounding like some kind of twisted garage mash-up of Johnny Cash and The Jesus and Mary Chain.

Founding members Hayes and Been share vocal duties throughout their catalog, adding a layer of complexity to the compositions and increasing the wall of sound size of their output. Hayes’ guitar and harmonica work is a loud, full Americana style while he channels The Man in Black. And Been’s rangy bass playing veers between neo-psychedelic and shoegaze; he’s got the brooding rock star look down pat with his leather jacket and Ian McCulloch hair. Combined with Shapiro’s metronome drumming, they are a muscular trio.

Debut album cuts like “Love Burns”, “Red Eyes and Tears”, “Spread Your Love”, and “Whatever Happened to My Rock ‘n’ Roll (Punk Song)” stood out in the set alongside newer selections from Beat the Devil’s Tattoo, with the title track and “Bad Blood” among those highlights.

B.R.M.C. are cool. Plain and simple. Impeccable pedigrees notwithstanding – Hayes was a member of The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Been is the son of The Call’s Michael Been, and Shapiro was the touring drummer for The Ravonettes – the trio come out and rock hard, exhausting the audience. They reminded me of The Black Keys in that way.

I have waited nearly ten years to witness B.R.M.C.’s feedback-drenched wall of fuzz garage rock sound in person. Watching them on stage, I kept thinking that this was exactly the kind of band I would have loved when I was nineteen or twenty. The sound, the image, the show. B.R.M.C. are the complete package. And their show reignited that rush of youth and music and the power to be moved. Like with The Black Keys, Tracy and I will now make a point to see them every time they come through town.

(All photos by Tracy Besenyodi.)

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