Black Rebel Motorcycle Club | 2.25.06

Maybe the day’s Mardi Gras festivities padded the attendance a bit, but let’s just hope that more people are getting savvy to BMRC’s charms.

Mississippi Nights, St. Louis 

Long gone are the obscuring, bushy-haired lads whose one trick seemed to be reviving the shoegazing luster of bands like the Jesus and Mary Chain. Instead, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club are content to dig deeper into their influences, unearthing bluesy gospel roots that made last year’s Howl a cherished oddity in a year of retrograde sounds. That the record was made at all was a minor miracle after the band nearly imploded following the loss of their record deal and—temporarily—drummer Nick Jago. Still, guitarist Peter Hayes and bassist Robert Levon Been managed to keep it together into the fall of 2004 and started recording new material. Jago soon rejoined the duo, and the ensuing record and tour have been the band’s most fully realized efforts yet.

Regrettably, circumstances were less than ideal when they took the stage at Mississippi Nights to what the band would later acknowledge as their largest crowd to date in St. Louis. Maybe the day’s Mardi Gras festivities padded the attendance a bit, but let’s just hope that more people are getting savvy to BMRC’s charms. The set started out gorgeously and on a mellower note—like most of their concerts have over the last few years—with Hayes strolling out by himself, this time breaking into the emotive “Fault Line,” backing himself with an acoustic guitar and harmonica. The other two members then joined Hayes, and it wasn’t long after they finished “Restless Sinner” and rode into “Shuffle Your Feet” and “Ain’t No Easy Way” that Been showed signs of being ill, periodically turning away in coughing fits and intermittently sipping a out of a cup of steaming liquid. On top of that, the sound was a poor, abrasive mix and a constant nuisance during the show.

Not a winning combination by any means, but the band soldiered on through a two-hour set mixing old and new material, with the occasional addition of a periodical fourth member helping fill out arrangements when Hayes or Been grabbed a trombone or headed for the keyboards. Songs paired well together, with recent tunes like “U.S. Government” and “Weight of the World” holding their own against the older material. The set really came alive as it wound down, and the band launched into the infectious threesome of “Love Burns,” “Red Eyes and Tears,” and “Spread Your Love.” Before the last song, Been let everyone know he was under the weather, saying, “I kind of caught my death last night. We got one more for you, then we’ll see what happens.”

Having already offered up 17 of their tracks, the band would have been easily excused for packing it in for the night after retreating off to the dressing room. But after a minute or two of slight unease in the crowd, Hayes returned to the stage, sat at the piano, and began playing the haunting B-side “Feel It Now.” The rest of the band joined Hayes, and Been—bolstered by what he relayed as “the medicine kicking in”—helped finish off an encore that totaled out at seven songs, including “Rifles,” the ferocious “Whatever Happened to My Rock ‘N’ Roll (Punk Song),” “Heart + Soul,” and finally the hidden track ballad “Open Invitation” which showcased Hayes on vocals and harmonium with Been backing up on organ. It’s yet another unbelievable tune from a band that seems to be overflowing with them. Even with an inconsistent sound mix and a sick co-vocalist, BRMC is never a disappointment, and this night—like so many others—let you know that whatever you think has happened to your rock ’n’ roll, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club knows right where to find it.

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