View more photos in Timothy Norris' "Black Rebel Motorcycle Club @ Echoplex, Night 2" slideshow.
Six albums of girls-gone-bad and civilian unrest fantasies supplied Black Rebel Motorcycle Club with more than enough material to fill their three-show stint at the Echoplex this past week. On Friday (night two), perfectly back-lit by a rolling blue mist, bassist Robert Been greeted the audience and asked if they were "looking good." He couldn't see them, and the words came off as a simple "How are you?," delivered young-Brando-biker-style.
"Everything's fucked up as usual," Been spat back, in case anyone was wondering.
It's this kind of uplifting talk, and the leather jacket, that keeps the band's image going. Happy songs don't really stand out--these are Dark, Troubled Souls we're dealing with. Even the gentle, more ethereal tunes oscillated between comparing love to razor blades and extolling rebellious social politics.
Blood, fire, and flesh imagery and black clothes added a vampiresque mystique, making the BRMC set appear more like the soundtrack to some lost sequel to The Crow than like the bluesy Americana they're often lumped with. And despite the fashion and distortion, however, the band's sound owes as much to Howlin' Wolf blues and Gram Parsons folk as it does to The Jesus & Mary Chain.
BRMC's performance was intensified by blinding blasts of light. These high-beam lights cranking behind the band resembled four oncoming semi-trucks, their grill, fog and hazards bright enough to light a football field. People shielded their eyes and bumped into garbage cans.
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The band played songs from its latest album, Beat The Devil's Tattoo, released last week on their own label, Abstract Dragon. It's an exercise in sparse, yet gritty hard blues, double-dipping feedback, and it thoroughly exploits the massive sound the band's three basic sonic components can make. Beat the Devil's "War Machine" picks up where "Rifles" left off in 2001, pushing disgruntled protest through a thick, fuzzy bog.
Over the course of the long evening, BRMC shared its pain slowly. The bass stretched for miles on Leah Shapiro's stoic, even drum assault. She fills the void left by Nick Jago, who has departed from the band for good. Poker-faced Shapiro anchored the songs, her bounce keeping time as if she ran on Duracells. Been held his bass like a rifle. He also used an acoustic guitar to create noise and a piano to conjure up ghosts of ex-girlfriends. His fellow balladeer, guitarist Peter Hayes, slid around the stage, peeling bluesy, guttural riffs from his fretboard and taking his harmonica for spins around his neck.
"Now she's gone, love burns inside me," sang Hayes on "Love Burns." "What happened to the revolution?," his voices scraped during "Berlin." The crowd responded, jumping, fist-pumping, as he begged "Help me somebody! Help me somebody!" between sexy grunts.
And the songs swirled in enclosing circles, like ancient vultures landing on the ripe carcass of "alternative music."