Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - Live At O2 Academy, Brixton

Can BRMC stand the test of time?

The opening drumbeats of 'Let The Day Begin' are joined by growling chords that emerge thick and juicy like steak. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club have made this cover of a 1989 track by The Call their own, charring the optimistic, bouncing, organ-enriched rocker into a bleaker number, plaintive notes hanging in a cloud of reverb.

For the opening date of their tour it also strikes a tone for the rest of the set, in turn salutatory and melancholy. Their seventh album, 'Specter At The Feast' harks back to the blues country folk maudlin of 2005's superb 'Howl', overshadowed as it is by the titular spectre of Michael Been – frontman of The Call, father to BRMC singer/bassist Robert Been, and BRMC sound engineer/fourth band member – who died of a heart attack backstage at a gig three years ago. The resulting sense of loss hangs obviously over this album, though not necessarily to any detriment – if anything it forms a welcome break from a run of uninspired rock-by-numbers albums.

Through the barely lit darkness on stage Been and singer/guitarist Peter Hayes are cowled underneath hoodies, the only colour from amber spots on latest drummer, ex-Raveonette Leah Shapiro. The crowd is a mix of young and not-so-young wafts of blonde in leopard-print (so 2001), jowly silver foxes and callow youths, which if anything shows the cross-generation appeal of BRMCs fuzz-rock (as anyone who'd heard scuzzy shoegaze forebears like Spiritualized, The Jesus and Mary Chain and Spacemen 3 thirty years ago knows).

The pitch-bend and chopped riffs of 'Red Eyes And Tears' are greeted by a cheer from the head nodding crowd at the back and the body nodding crowd at the front, followed by 'Hate The Taste' from the new album and 'Beat The Devil's Tattoo' from the last. But it takes older material to set the gig alight – 'Whatever Happened To My Rock 'N' Roll' is greeted by sallies of flying pint glasses as arms and legs go up and over down the front, and the harmonica-drenched blues stomp of 'Ain't No Easy Way' still sounds fantastic.

But then the set takes an introspective turn, with alternate solo performances from both frontmen on piano, organ and guitar. In contrast to the band's sunglasses-at-night, leather-clad rock reputation many of their finest pieces of songcraft are their calmer numbers – we hear gentle, regretful 'Devil's Waitin'', organ-led 'Howl', and a slew of new tracks. The delayed refrain and overdriven guitars of 'Love Burns', their opening salvo from 2001, still sparkle now, even through tonight's uncharacteristically quiet sound system. So while each outing of early material is greeted by wild cheers and leaping, with raucous renditions of 'Six Barrel Shotgun' and 'Spread Your Love', a second batch of downtempo numbers threatens to try the crowd's patience.

BRMC's first album landed at a time when overproduced nu-metal and shiny tween pop-punk ruled the charts. It was visceral, soulful, and songs like 'Salvation' felt like exactly that. It was timely, paved the way for a catalogue of great (and not-so-great) garage rockers over the coming decade, and rightfully remains a classic. But ten years later, against the short attention span of the internet where new genres blossom and fade in weeks and new music is everywhere, the band plough a furrow that seems increasingly dated. And while the new material is a welcome change of tone, it's not always easy listening for fans.

 

Words by Michael Parker

Photos by Rosie Wadey

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