Last Saturday night, Wrigleyville stayed up late. Most residents of the neighborhood were basking in the glory of two Cubs wins in a doubleheader with the Pirates, which, combined with a loss earlier in the day by Houston to the Brewers, secured the North Side Nine's first division title in fourteen years.
But not everyone in Wrigleyville that night had baseball on their minds. A line stretching out the doors of the Metro wrapped itself around the block, testifying to the drawing power of (or lavish press bestowed upon) Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. A darling of the British music press (and subsequently Spin magazine here in the States), BRMC hails from San Francisco, and features Californians Peter Hayes (guitar, vocals) and Robert Turner (bass, vocals), along with British drummer, Nick Jago.
Touring in support of their newly released sophomore album, Take Them On, On Your Own, the members of BRMC took the stage at 1 AM, a full hour-and-a-half after their scheduled start time, leaving the Stratford 4, who were to open the show, to play well into the morning. The band promptly got down to business, playing the first single off the new album, "Stop," as members of the audience were still shuffling in from the cold night. Dressed all in black with plenty of leather, the members of BRMC look the way they sound: if you could hear unwashed black hair, it would sound like the fuzzy bass lines present in most of BRMC's songs.
The first half of the set consisted mainly of the good-but-not-great material from the new album, mixed in with some tracks off their debut, which also failed to light a fire under the cold, cold asses of the concertgoers. Only when they got to the "Red Eyes & Tears" b-side "Screaming Gun" did things start to pick up. That song, featuring a melody introduced by a harmonica, is one of the more interesting in the band's catalog, which can sound extraordinarily similar at times. This is perhaps the biggest problem with the band: they are able to churn out a consistent product, but who wants to buy the same album over and over again? I should temper this comment by mentioning that the songs which stand out from the rest are some of the best rock songs currently being written.
A blistering version of "White Palms" followed, securing the attention of the audience for another five minutes. This momentum was not sustained, however, as BRMC fell into a paint-by-numbers version of "Shade of Blue." Even "Rifles," a fan favorite from the debut album, fell flat. While not particularly offensive to the ears, such limp versions conveyed a sense that the band had lost track of where it was trying to go with its music.
Fortunately, BRMC knows how to put together a set list. Left to the end of the show were the brilliant "Whatever Happened to My Rock 'n Roll" and "Rise or Fall," both of which managed to energize a tired crowd (by that time it was 2 AM). Returning for an encore, Hayes and Turner switched instruments to play "Suddenly," arguably the best song on the new album. The trade seemed to work, as the band sustained the energy level finally reached at the end of their set.
Saving the best for last, BRMC finished off the night with "Salvation" and "Heart + Soul," respective album closers from the debut and Take Them On, On Your Own. "Heart + Soul" found Turner (playing bass again) making his way through the crowd after stage diving. Clearly the high point of the evening, the band seemed to have found its muse.
Playing loud, energetic music only works if you play it loud and energetically, a point which was lost on BRMC in the early portions of the set. When the band finally let its veil of self-consciousness lift, the members were able to play with an abandon that should never have been missing in the first place.