Black Rebel Motorcycle Club at First Avenue, 5/18/13
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
First Avenue, Minneapolis
May 18, 2013
It has been a rather tumultuous couple of years for Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. In late 2010, the California trio suffered the shocking passing of Michael Been, legendary frontman of the Call, who died of a heart attack backstage at one of the band's shows. Been was not only the father of BRMC's Robert Levon Been, but he had also been the band's sound engineer for years, providing a welcome and steady sonic influence on the group while on tour.
The songs from BRMC's just-released new album, Specter at the Feast, are justifiably drenched in raw emotion and dignified remembrance of Been and his long musical legacy, and the band's triumphant return to First Avenue on Saturday night appropriately kicked off with a raucous cover of the Call and only got better from there during their generous two-hour, 23-song set, which drew liberally from throughout their entire 13-year career.
As the band took to the spartan stage to roaring applause, they wasted little time launching into a fiery take on "Let the Day Begin," which got the set started with a shot. Both Been and Peter Hayes were dressed in their customary black leather jackets at the start of the show, which they both shed as the club and their songs warmed up. A raucous, fury-fueled take on "Rival" quickly followed, with the stage awash in blinding white lights. After a moody, slow-burning take on "Red Eyes and Tears," Been thanked the swelling crowd appreciatively: "How are you good people doing tonight? It's kind of a trippy thing -- there's a lot of you here. Thanks for supporting us. It's been far too long since we've been here. Thank you for remembering us and coming out tonight."
A pulsing, classic-sounding "Hate the Taste" and a sinister version of "Beat the Devil's Tattoo" kept the strong start going, before the night forcefully ignited with a smoking version of "Whatever Happened to My Rock 'N' Roll," which found the band flailing away, lost in the self-assured spirit of the song. Hayes displayed a deft touch on the harmonica on a stomping rendition of "Ain't No Easy Way," that featured a thunderous backbeat from drummer Leah Shapiro, who was on point throughout the entire set.
After a mercurial take on "Berlin," the band slowed things down with a gorgeous rendition of "Returning," which lacked a bit of the emotional hymn-like qualities of the studio version, but still soared nonetheless. An urgent take on "Love Burns" dialed the energy level up the club right back up again, before Been and Hayes both took solo turns that brought a hush over the crowd as we all caught our breath.
Robert got behind the piano for a tender solo take on "Promise," which overcame a humorous false start that had Been dropping his head while admonishing himself, "I fucked this up already." But he eventually found his way through the gorgeous track while providing one of the night's muted highlights. Then it was Hayes's turn for a couple of solo takes, starting with a harmonica- and acoustic guitar-driven version of "Fault Line," which led into a sweet surprise take on "Some Kind of Ghost," which hasn't been on many recent set lists.
The full band then joined in on an experimental rendition of "Fire Walker," which found the band losing themselves in the long, moody intro before the track fully kicked in. A bouncy, Beatles-esque take on "Windows" gave way to a raucous version of "Conscience Killer," which fully ignited the second half of the set. A dense, textured take on "In Like the Rose" proved to be another clear standout, with Hayes dexterously alternating between guitar and a small effects keyboard set atop his amp, adding another capricious layer to the simmering number.
A slow-burning, poignant version of "Lullaby" blossomed gradually, as the vulnerable emotions of the song swept over the entire club. But that proved to be the last hushed moment of the show, as the main set ended with a blustery trio of tracks, beginning with an incendiary take on "White Palms," which featured an unruly coda of John Lennon's "I Don't Want to Be a Soldier, Mama" tagged to the end of the spirited number, driving home the defiant stance of both tracks. "Six Barrel Shotgun" kept up the breathless finish to the set, with Hayes taking a brief moment to say, "Thank you, guys," before the main set closed with a towering, edgy version of "Spread Your Love" that saw the band off to a massive ovation.
A feedback-laden, strobe light-drenched take on "Sell It" confidently kicked off the encore, with Been taking a moment to sincerely thank the crowd. "You guys have always been so nice to us. We've been coming here to Minneapolis and First Ave for over 10 years now, and each and every time you've always been so good to us. Thanks for supporting us all these years." And with that, the band left us with a moody and meaningful take on "Lose Yourself," which found Hayes needing a cigarette just to make it through the emotional number. It was the perfect ending for a band who have made their way through some dark times as of late, but still managed to make something sincere and significant out of their sorrow, while bolstering all of us in the process.
Personal Bias: I've been a fan of BRMC since their 2001 debut, but I've fallen off with their recent albums. Specter at the Feast drew me back in, and their live shows have never disappointed me.
The Crowd: A packed house full of Saturday-night revelers.
Overheard In The Crowd: "This song makes me want to learn how to play guitar," during the soaring middle section of "Lullaby."
Random Notebook Dump: I'd like to thank First Avenue for having a great show planned for my birthday, and for the complimentary bottle of champagne. And, my friend won the Tweet-table, so the entire night was a smashing success.
Let the Day Begin (The Call)
Red Eyes and Tears
Hate the Taste
Beat the Devil's Tattoo
Whatever Happened to My Rock 'N' Roll
Ain't No Easy Way
Promise (Robert solo on piano)
Fault Line (Peter solo)
Some Kind of Ghost (Peter solo)
In Like the Rose
White Palms/I Don't Want to Be a Soldier, Mama (John Lennon)
Six Barrel Shotgun
Spread Your Love
Sell It (Encore)
Lose Yourself (Encore)
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