Black Rebel Motorcycle Club | 5.20.07

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live_brmcMaybe it was the frequent backlighting, silhouetting the band and shifting attention toward the audience, but everyone in the building seemed to know the answer when Hayes sang "Whatever Happened to My Rock 'n' Roll (Punk Song)"—it's here for the taking.





The Pageant, St. Louis

See photos from the band's 2006 Mississippi Nights Concerts in the Photo Gallery

As a band that's noted for its adherence to the aesthetic tenets of straight-up rock, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club is destined to walk the fine line between predictability and artistic success. Fortunately for the fans of the San Francisco trio, every Take Them On, On Your Own has led to a Howl, and every fuck-you-chord has been met by a heartfelt bit of lyrical soul. Their night at The Pageant was no different, as BRMC exploited the polarizing notion of two leading men in order to flood a hungry audience with swagger and fist-pumpers before turning the tables with a slew of haunting acoustic ballads.

The night began, predictably enough for tour followers, with "Took out a Loan," a buzzing representation of the sonic merging of BRMC's previous efforts, and the opening track off of the newly released Baby 81. As the skull and pistons of the band's badass banner hung in the background, Peter Hayes emerged from the fog and shadows, a curly coif obscuring his face while his prominent vocals took charge. The evening would consist of plenty of tradeoff leads between Hayes and Robert Levon Been, the latter being marked by his taller frame and leather jacket. To the casual listener, the two singers' voices are almost indistinguishable, yet their dueling dynamic and ostensibly unacknowledged understanding creates a musical synergy that is rare in a world of egos. The sexual pulse of "Berlin" followed, along with "Lien on Your Dreams" in a set that featured lots of Baby 81 peppered with favorites from Take Them On and the band's self-titled debut.

It's impossible to ignore BRMC's energy in translation from album to live performance, but my expectations were blown away by how much momentum and emotive control Hayes, Been, and drummer Nick Jago were able to maintain throughout the night. New rockers "Weapon of Choice" (big cheer from the new converts) and "666 Conducer" were driving and big, yet maintained the raw, bone-grinding touch of earlier efforts such as "Six Barrel Shotgun." And maybe it was the frequent backlighting, silhouetting the band and shifting attention toward the audience, but everyone in the building seemed to know the answer when Hayes sang "Whatever Happened to My Rock 'n' Roll (Punk Song)"—it's here for the taking.

Been emerged from his crouch to sing lead for most of the second half of the set, with "Need Some Air" and "American X" featuring prominently. Of course, Hayes busted out the trombone on "Promise" with Been on piano, although BRMC saved the best Howl material for last, but not before a fro'd fan named Mike played guest guitar on "Love Burns," a humble moment for a band whose distaste for the spotlight can often be confused with elitism.

Where the bulk of BRMC's main set was loud, dirty, purebred rock 'n' roll, their encore was a mesmerizing thing of beauty. Hayes emerged alone with his harmonica and guitar, smoothly serenading the crowd with "Fault Line" and "Devil's Waitin.'" The falsetto on the latter song served as a warming reminder that this band is capable of very peaceful melodies, and Hayes' vulnerability revealed the songwriter beyond the unavoidable pomp. After these lullabies, it wasn't yet time for bed, with the band rejoining for a raucous version of "Ain't No Easy Way" before the night came to a close with the epic strains of "All You Do Is Talk." I'm sure everybody wanted more, but this was plenty. BRMC is a band on top of their game, and a band that is fully aware of its strengths, weaknesses, and ability to manipulate an evening's ebb and flow through their diverse talents. For every challenge, they provide an answer. Yet, the answer serves an indirect purpose: to be enough to bring us together, all while inciting the energy to take on challenges on our own. A cognitive rebellion. The spirit of rock 'n' roll. It's here for the taking. | Dave Jasmon

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