Black Rebel Motorcyle Club push forward in Boston
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
I think about what the temptation must be as a band to settle into a groove and crank out a “best-of” setlist every night, to keep making records as an exercise in-between the true revenue-generating act of touring each year, each cycle. It’s incredibly hard to make it to that point as a band, to be able to consistently fill venues with more than 1,000 bodies in major cities across the U.S. and Europe.
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club has reached that level, obviously. But in the face of whatever comforts come with that plane of musical success, they have shunned the easy road in favor of creating a more satisfying artistic world. They live in a much more fulfilling musical moment, chasing their creative impulses and exploring what can be possible with their new music.
That mentality was on display at the House of Blues in Boston, where the bulk of the setlist came from their latest album, Specter at the Feast, and everything from their back catalog seemed to function as almost as new interpretations on old material, even when the arrangements didn’t vary too much from the originals.
To be fair, that this band holds that mentality is no surprise. In 2005, they sent listeners for a shock as they dropped their mammoth sound for HOWL, a record that wound up being one of the more inspired entries to the American folk cannon of the past decade. They’ve worked on merging that sound with the heavy beat that’s still at the core of their sound, and those explorations have led to some tremendous recordings and moments of on-stage brilliance.
All that was in effect on this night in Boston. Robert Levon Been kicked off the night with “Let the Day Begin,” the first single from Specter at the Feast and a living tribute to his late father, Michael Been, the former leader of The Call who had been working with B.R.M.C. as a producer and sound engineer. The energy and enthusiasm in that performance was obvious, and as a tribute to living in the moment and pushing forward, it was a rally call for the rest of the night.
And through it all, they seemed to be in a good mood. “Ain’t No Easy Way” featured an extended a cappella coda and a quick smirk from Been to guitarist Peter Hayes after nailing it before the lights went black. The stage lights were spinning while the band pumped out their nihilist anthem “Berlin,” and just as quickly, the stage seemed to turn from a smoke-filled feedback bomb into an eastern European coffee house when the band stripped down to acoustic instruments, first for Been’s “Mercy” and then for Hayes’ “Devil’s Waitin’.”
Acoustic or electric, it’s hard to ignore the menace they’re able to bring to some of these songs. The bass pulsated in between the ripple of the drums on “Sell It” in the encore, before Peter Hayes’ guitar and voice exploded into controlled chaos before all the anarchy was wrangled back into the rhythm, slow and purposeful lines paired with eruptions. Jimmy Page often speaks about how dynamics are the key to memorable and effective songs in his world of heavy music, referring to the effect as “light and shade.” Black Rebel Motorcycle Club deals in blinding sunlight and total blackness, and it’s thrilling.
That ability to blockade the outside world was most effective as the show came to a stop. It was during “Lose Yourself,” the latter of the sprawling epics that closed out this show as well as Specter at the Feast, that I felt like I was in another place. It was calm and the winds were swirling, as if it were some sort of feedback-induced dream state. After so much heavy stomp and noise, the crowd was being lifted to a new height as the show wound to a halt.
For a few minutes, everything was a haze while the music rolled up and over the crowd. There was no thought of new tours or records or t-shirts or anything. There was just that song. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club was on stage making music, and they had sucked me into the moment.
E-mail Nick Tavares at firstname.lastname@example.org