Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
The Institute, Birmingham
The Black Rebel Motorcycle Club tour (promoting their first album in three years, Specter at the Feast) came to Birmingham last week. Louder Than War were there in the persons of Mark Ray (words) & Fiona Lee (Photo’s).
The band don’t so much roar onto the stage as wander with insouciant charm onto it, as though they were born into this role. Their boots have dust on them from long travelling and you feel they could be in town looking for trouble.
Peter Hayes, the main guitarist, is the leader of this gang. He stalks the stage like a laid back rattlesnake. Just a nod here and there to the drummer, orchestrating with the minimal of movements.
The drummer is Leah Shapiro. She beats out a devil’s tattoo with elegance and ferocity. Her stare, behind flailing long hair, tells you she’s in the groove and don’t mess with her. I like seeing women hit drums. It’s a thing.
Robert Been, bass player (and sometime guitarist), moves his lanky frame with an outcast’s elegance. His spaced out gaze lost in a beautiful face. He is a Californian visitation to England’s long winter. He falls to his knees, as though he is both saviour and worshipper at the altar of Roots Rock. He is an idol coming down to his adoring fans, who mostly appear to be young women. I’m not jealous. Really.
They open the set with a track off their new album: ‘Let The Day Begin’. It’s a song written by Robert’s father, Michael, for his band, The Call. Michael Been died in 2010 whilst working on a BRMC tour. Surely, he is the Specter at the Feast and it was fitting that they opened the set with this song. Though how hard it is for Robert to sing can only be imagined.
The band rock as hard as any band I’ve seen and new tracks like ‘Rival’ and ‘Hate The Taste’ fit effortlessly into a set that includes classics like ‘Beat The Devil’s Tattoo’, ‘Whatever Happened To My Rock & Roll’ and ‘Six Barrel Shotgun’. But they have always mixed the hard blues rock with roots rock and psychedelia reminiscent of Jesus and Mary Chain. Half way through the set Hayes plays ‘Devil’s Waitin’’ solo on acoustic and then Been does ‘Mercy’ solo. It’s a nice breather before the band burst back with a vengeance. The whole set is riveting.
The final song of the night is ‘Lose Yourself’. Most bands like BRMC would probably end the night on a fast paced, heavy rocker, but ‘Lose Yourself’ is laid back, melancholic, thoughtful. It makes the perfect end. Leaving the venue into the bitter cold night, you feel, for a moment, that maybe life does have a meaning. Maybe that’s what all art should do, lift you from the mundane, into something more, something other, if only for a moment. I drive home down the M6 and, for a moment, imagine another freeway in another country…and then it’s time to get up for work.
We should all lose ourselves from time to time.
All words by Mark Ray. Photos © Fiona Lee. More of Mark’s writing for louder than war can be found over at his author’s archive.