Black Rebel Motorcycle Club at First Avenue, 5/18/13
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
First Avenue, Minneapolis
May 18, 2013
It has been a rather tumultuous couple of years for Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. In late 2010, the California trio suffered the shocking passing of Michael Been, legendary frontman of the Call, who died of a heart attack backstage at one of the band's shows. Been was not only the father of BRMC's Robert Levon Been, but he had also been the band's sound engineer for years, providing a welcome and steady sonic influence on the group while on tour.
The songs from BRMC's just-released new album, Specter at the Feast, are justifiably drenched in raw emotion and dignified remembrance of Been and his long musical legacy, and the band's triumphant return to First Avenue on Saturday night appropriately kicked off with a raucous cover of the Call and only got better from there during their generous two-hour, 23-song set, which drew liberally from throughout their entire 13-year career.
As the band took to the spartan stage to roaring applause, they wasted little time launching into a fiery take on "Let the Day Begin," which got the set started with a shot. Both Been and Peter Hayes were dressed in their customary black leather jackets at the start of the show, which they both shed as the club and their songs warmed up. A raucous, fury-fueled take on "Rival" quickly followed, with the stage awash in blinding white lights. After a moody, slow-burning take on "Red Eyes and Tears," Been thanked the swelling crowd appreciatively: "How are you good people doing tonight? It's kind of a trippy thing -- there's a lot of you here. Thanks for supporting us. It's been far too long since we've been here. Thank you for remembering us and coming out tonight."
A pulsing, classic-sounding "Hate the Taste" and a sinister version of "Beat the Devil's Tattoo" kept the strong start going, before the night forcefully ignited with a smoking version of "Whatever Happened to My Rock 'N' Roll," which found the band flailing away, lost in the self-assured spirit of the song. Hayes displayed a deft touch on the harmonica on a stomping rendition of "Ain't No Easy Way," that featured a thunderous backbeat from drummer Leah Shapiro, who was on point throughout the entire set.
After a mercurial take on "Berlin," the band slowed things down with a gorgeous rendition of "Returning," which lacked a bit of the emotional hymn-like qualities of the studio version, but still soared nonetheless. An urgent take on "Love Burns" dialed the energy level up the club right back up again, before Been and Hayes both took solo turns that brought a hush over the crowd as we all caught our breath.
Robert got behind the piano for a tender solo take on "Promise," which overcame a humorous false start that had Been dropping his head while admonishing himself, "I fucked this up already." But he eventually found his way through the gorgeous track while providing one of the night's muted highlights. Then it was Hayes's turn for a couple of solo takes, starting with a harmonica- and acoustic guitar-driven version of "Fault Line," which led into a sweet surprise take on "Some Kind of Ghost," which hasn't been on many recent set lists.
The full band then joined in on an experimental rendition of "Fire Walker," which found the band losing themselves in the long, moody intro before the track fully kicked in. A bouncy, Beatles-esque take on "Windows" gave way to a raucous version of "Conscience Killer," which fully ignited the second half of the set. A dense, textured take on "In Like the Rose" proved to be another clear standout, with Hayes dexterously alternating between guitar and a small effects keyboard set atop his amp, adding another capricious layer to the simmering number.