Saturday, March 13, 2010 review...

Over the last two decades, San Francisco’s Black Rebel Motorcycle Club has found itself in the midst of an ever changing identity crisis. Well, maybe crisis isn’t the right word; uncertainty fits better. After several years of back and forth infighting between original drummer Nick Jago and guitarists Peter Hayes and Robert Levon Been, it seems the strings have at long last been cut; for now at least. Joined now by the Raveonettes’ drummer Leah Shapiro, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club releases their sixth studio album, Beat the Devil’s Tattoo, their first since their 2008 instrumental record The Effects of 333 and 2007’s Baby 81. This is also the first release from the band’s own label Abstract Dragon. The emergence is a return the sound the band enjoyed during the early years with pound-it-out style rock and roll with a healthy mix of folk gospel induced melodies thrown in, akin to 2004’s Howl.

After the first listen of the opening and title track, ‘Beat the Devil’s Tattoo’, it’s the first time I’ve been excited for a BRMC album since Howl. That album carried mixed reviews and from a purely economic standpoint, was a disappointment. However, it marked a turning point in the band and produced some of the best songwriting thus far. That is, until now. The first track is just the tip of the ice-berg followed by the one-two knock out blows of ‘Conscience Killer’ and ‘Bad Blood’ Here, Hayes and Been are relentless in the attempt to regain their momentum. The former, a powerful pounding, psych-rock trip reminiscent of the Stroke’s at their height of popularity, the latter which relies more on the group’s distinctive vocals.

‘War machine’ explodes from the outset exhibiting a White Stripes-esque guitar riff with the kind of authority that makes groupies swoon. This is one track I am looking forward to hearing live next week during SXSW. This power fades into ‘Sweet Feeling’ displaying the group’s versatility drawing from their big bag of influences. This soft emotional side doesn’t last long before the ironically titled ‘Evol’ smacks the listener across the head with traditional BRMC drawl and slow building instrumentation we have become use to over their two-decade career. This release is an ‘evolution’ of the sounds produced throughout their 6 album releases and combines the best of all of them.

We get our first good examination of the addition of Shapiro with her raging, pulse pounding rhythms on ‘River Styx’. It’s at first obvious that she was a good choice to fill the void left by Jago and brings the stability of which Hayes and Been have been searching all along. The hypnotic brogue of Aya, building to a strong raucous ballad and the impressive 10-minute jam session of ‘Half State’ close out the record with a strong note. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club has been waiting their entire careers to construct an album like Beat the Devil’s Tattoo and it’s no surprise that based on where they’ve come from, they have many more to come. I am certainly back on the bandwagon.

Catch their SXSW showcase March 19th at 11:00 at La Zona Rosa and they are also playing the free Filter Day Party the same day at 4:20 pm in the Cedar Street Courtyard.