Words by Molly Forsyth / Pics Phil Drury
Beaten leather jackets, faded skinny jeans, slightly greying hair and classic rock band tees… a seasoned crowd of music fans are with me at the O2 Academy to see Black Rebel Motorcycle Club (BMRC).
Formed in 1998, the San Francisco trio have anchored themselves as one of the Noughties’ most memorable rock bands, with a die-hard fanbase to boot. Traversing classic hard rock, blues, post punk and anything else from the grimier underbelly of rock, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club are a band who are proud to stick to their guns. While their contemporaries favoured disco beats and New Romantic candour back in 2005, they couldn’t cut through BRMC’s distortion and bluster. This is probably why the band are still going strong and touring in support of their upcoming eighth studio album, Wrong Creatures.
With their history in mind, it makes perfect sense for the opening act to be Restavrant, a rare breed of a band borne from the Los Angeles scene by two blues fanatics hailing from the Deep South. Restavrant come to Birmingham trucker capped, plaid clad and ready to bring the Texan heat to the stage. From the first song, the energy borders on dangerous when drummer Tyler Whiteside’s makeshift cymbals splinter from his strikes. What follows is an intoxicating blend of DIY punk and old school blues, but far more earnest than you would come to expect from an LA scene of poseur rock.
The creativity of Restavrant shines brightest for their half hour in the spotlight. Self-taught and unrestricted by traditional rock band set-ups, neither band member sticks to the beaten path in their playing techniques. Guitarist, Troy Murrah, is incapable of playing in a traditional style for more than two minutes, attacking the fretboard from almost every angle physically possible and showing the diversity of 16-bar blues with every song. Whiteside’s unorthodox kit, complete with an electronic pad, a suitcase for a kick drum and various other scraps of metal as percussion, is a perfect example of how this band infuse their Southern roots into their craft.
There isn’t much room for any respite or reflection in this stormer of a set, but Restavrant aren’t pretending to strive for anything beyond purely guttural rock, nor would you want them to. In a genre currently suffering under the rise of hip-hop and a trend towards minimalism and softness, Restavrant show determination to bring rock n’ roll back to its former glory, even if only for half an hour.
What follows from the main act of the evening doesn’t really match the pace or excitement that Restavrant incite within the crowd. I’m not expecting Black Rebel Motorcycle Club to have a full-throttle set for 90-plus minutes, but the 24-song set starts to drag from ‘Beat The Devil’s Tattoo’ onwards. I don’t want to suggest an experienced live band could sound amateurish, but it wouldn’t be unfair to suspect that tonight Black Rebel Motorcycle Club are suffering from sound engineering problems. There’s no emphasis on any harsh or soft moments, or indeed barely any change in dynamic at all from song to song. The guitars start to bleed into a drone that is hard to distinguish, save a few recognisable riffs; the issue is so prevalent that I didn’t realise they were covering Tom Petty’s ‘It’s Good to Be King’ until around a minute into the track.
Sound issues aside, I get the feeling that BRMC are aware of their longevity and find comfort in it rather than a challenge. There is definite fan service being paid, with the hardcore faction of the crowd clearly enjoying every second. For anyone else with a slightly more casual appreciation however, it’s a tough set to sink into. As a band famed for their live abilities, tonight Black Rebel Motorcycle Club aren’t quite delivering what they are known for during a live show. They remain mostly static, crowd interaction is minimal, and any playfulness with songs they’ve been entertaining with for years is hard to come by.
Drummer, Leah Shapiro, holds the fort perfectly as the rhythmic core of the group but seems almost bored of her role, rarely breaking away from the studio versions even though she definitely has scope and ability to. The stark, primary-colour lighting and moody smoke effects are reminiscent of early Interpol shows done as a gimmick. All in all, the set is unfortunately nondescript.
Their two biggest singles to date – ‘Spread Your Love’ and ‘Whatever Happened to My Rock and Roll’ – are unsurprisingly left till last. Frustratingly, it’s only now that the band come alive; a few plastic pint cups start to bounce off the crowd’s increasing undulation. Levon Been shows a little rowdiness and whips up the front row into a frenzy. After an hour of sleepwalking through their hits, all of a sudden it starts to resemble a rock show, albeit too late for me.
But there are brief moments of magic from Black Rebel Motorcycle Club tonight. ‘Ain’t No Easy Way’, ‘Stop’ and ‘666 Conducer’ are able to break through the onset ennui. Peter Heyes’ solo take on ‘Devil’s Waitin’’ is also impressive.
I leave the O2 Academy with no less respect for Black Rebel Motorcycle Club but a little deflated, having been pumped up with high expectations. I will make sure I give Wrong Creatures a listen upon its release, and my lingering hope is that the next time BRMC make a live outing the quality of the performance matches the undeniable quality of their back-catalogue.
Restavrant – supporting Black Rebel Motorcycle Club @ O2 Academy 28.10.17 / Phil Drury – Birmingham Review
For more on Restavrant, visit www.restavrant.bandcamp.com
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club @ O2 Academy 28.10.17 / Phil Drury – Birmingham Review
For more on Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, visit www.blackrebelmotorcycleclub.com
For more from the O2 Academy Birmingham, including full event listings and online ticket sales, visit www.academymusicgroup.com/o2academybirmingham
For more from SJM Concerts/Gigs and Tours, visit www.gigsandtours.com