November 9, 2001

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club strip down

So how do you know that you witnessed a great show, one of those truly rare performances that restores your faith in the power of screaming guitars? I'm not quite sure how you measure it, but I do know that it's 2:30 in the morning and I'm absolutely wired. No chance in hell I'm going to bed. The only thing I can think to do is to try to transfer all this energy onto the page. It feels like I just had the equivalent of three cups of coffee and a quadruple shot of espresso. By the end of most rock shows, my back and legs are aching, and I'm just about ready for a stretcher. But not this time. Right about now, I'm ready for a marathon.

I have to admit that I was skeptical of B.R.M.C.'s ability to deliver the type of show I attended on Tuesday night. Not that their album doesn't showcase fantastic musicianship and intricate melodies, but I was worried that they would stretch themselves thin by trying to duplicate the album live. (Doves' live performances have been tedious affairs due to such maddening ambition.) Fortunately, B.R.M.C. attempted no such feat. Instead, they trimmed the spooky ambient effects and worked with the bare essentials: cranking the guitar and bass to decibel-defying levels.

This was, in every sense, a no-frills show. Ride's "Leave Them All Behind," which played right before they mounted the stage, made their intentions clear, and they wasted no time making good on the threat. They tore through most of the album and a couple of b-sides and ended by turning their rhetorical question of a single, "Whatever Happened to My Rock 'n' Roll? (punk song)," into a veritable battle cry. Every song was detonated for maximum damage, i.e. songs like "Awake," which would have been unbearably lethargic live, were transformed into swirling avalanches of feedback. Drummer Nick Jago and basssist/guitarist Robert Turner did their part in making sure the songs never became totally amorphous noise workouts. These were definitely songs — played just to the brink of chaos.

Of course, their mastery of the live show probably didn't happen overnight. This is a band who have had plenty of time to hone their performance. They've been on the road almost from the day their album hit stores in April, with nothing but a couple weeks break in between tours. They've already seen more cities than bands on their third or fourth albums. And it doesn't look like their schedule will be getting less hectic any time soon, with their album due to be released in Europe in the coming weeks.

Yet somehow the relentless touring has not exhausted their creativity, as they unveiled two new songs during their very generous four-song encore. Both of them were very much a continuation of their American update of early '90s British rock — though it must be said that the new songs were decidedly less sophisticated. However, given their live treatment of the tracks on record, it seems likely that the subtler touches were merely excised in favor of a more forceful delivery.

I can't recall a more fully-realized and satisfying show than the one I attended Tuesday. By the time the last bits of feedback had died away, there was nothing left but incredulous expressions. How had this unheard-of band from San Fransisco wreaked such gorgeous havoc? In seven short months, B.R.M.C. have conquered the American club circuit. Hope England is good and ready.