Wednesday, July 28, 2010

review from AL's Bar 25 July


By Vicki Anderson – The Press
Review of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club at AL’s Bar, Sunday, July 25.

My head hurts and I can hardly walk today but let me share my experiences from last night.
Wandering down Colombo St a Brazilian guy in a beanie asks where the action is in Christchurch on a Sunday night.

The epicentre of all action for me was the sold-out show AL’s Bar on Dundas St where American cool-as-f… trio Black Rebel Motorcycle Club would take the smoke-filled stage in the final of three New Zealand shows, their first here since 2003.

The Christchurch gig was the smallest they’ve done in some time and the opportunity to see one of my favourite bands in such a space was not lost on me.

Outside it is painfully obvious that ticketing is a bit of an issue, with several people on the door scrolling through a list of names on a Ticketmaster list before allowing entry.

Inside on a small stage near the door, support act Christchurch punks The Transistors are blasting out tunes from their debut self-titled album. The Kiwis have one small amp.

Down the other end of the room the stage set-up is monstrous, with the $400,000-odd PA system from the Christchurch Town Hall installed in the bar in honour of the Americans’ visit.

Trying to get close to the stage in the human crush is always a fine art.
I got lucky and had a smooth glide to the front in the wake of a 6ft something prop and end up in the second from front row.

The crush of bodies was so intense that the band had trouble getting to the stage. We had to be pushed back to allow enough walk-on room for Peter Hayes, Robert Levon Been and newish drummer, Swedish Leah Shapiro (The Raveonettes).

That was the only glimpse I got of Shapiro for the whole night, aside from the occasional view of a drumstick feverishly in motion at opportune pogo moments.

From the moment B.R.M.C. slickly launched into War Machine, a wall of gritty, dirtily fuzzy guitars, off their latest album Beat the Devil’s Tattoo, the crowd went for it, glancing around me I saw nothing but thrashing limbs, ecstatic faces and a cluster of Peter Hayes wannabes in leather jackets writhing as much as they could in the two inches of space available to them.

Angular Robert Been busted out the classic rock God moves, taking on vocal duties for most of the night, saying only “Pete’s been told by the doctor not to sing but he said f… it”.

It should be mentioned here that Pete Hayes has laryngitis. Pretty impressive that he was there at all, right? Sound engineer for the night was Mike Been, Robert’s dad. Mike is a former member of Californian group The Call and the sound was superb – clean and clear and and brain-thuddingly loud in all the right places. The trio were apparently meticulous during soundcheck and this shone through.

Justifying their numerous Jesus and Mary Chain comparisons with their ardent dark vibe, BRMC played for around two hours last night – a swag of songs from their sixth studio album Beat The Devil’s Tattoo, and from their extensive back catalogue including 2001 debut B.R.M.C. and other classics from Howl, Take Them On, On Your Own and Baby 81.

BRMC swapping easily from sexy psychedelic stomping rock `n’ roll, to organic blues, to trippy Spiritualised-like moments.

Highlights for me included the swaggeringly delivered title song Beat the Devil’s Tattoo – the title taken from an Edgar Allen Poe poem (gorgeous AND literary, be still my drumming heart), old fave Spread Your Love, Stop, the distorted glory of Shadow’s Keeper and the frenzied Whatever Happened To My Rock `n’ Roll, during which someone crashed down on my foot and, I realised later, severed the entire nail from my little pinkie toe.

Generally people up front were well behaved, the only minor altercation I had involved a chick digging her nails into my arm, trying to prise me out of her way so she could get a bit closer.

Shooting me a grin, the guy with emo-hair next to me and I stood our ground despite every trick in the book. She ground her beer bottle into my back, tried to hook my foot with hers and force me to fall over etc. Where did she think she was going to go?

Into the 1mm space in front of me? As it was the guy in front of me kept complaining that my boobs were squished into his neck. Eventually she gave up but hissed “bitch” in my ear, leaving several nasty scratches. The scars were worth it.

A friend positioned near the rear of the room later told me that the sound was superb from their vantage point but that they didn’t see the band once in two hours.

Those wishing to pogo appeared unsettled by the serenely detached acoustic junctures offered by Shuffle Your Feet and Open Invitation, with Hayes on harmonica, but to me they just added depth, glorious in their subtlety.

Bassist Been’s Shuffle Your Feet effortlessly ranged the gamut of Native American-type chanting, rock beats, elements of metal-style guitar and country and blues-type harmonica.

One leather-jacketed wannabe in the crowd took the opportunity to climb his mate’s shoulders and wave back to the crowd, searching for a mate who had been dispatched to get beer but had been tardy making his way back. Humorous.

Because of the stage set-up at AL’s Bar, it’s difficult for bands to do the customary walk off, wait for the encore cries and come back out spiel, so B.R.M.C. didn’t attempt it, instead playing four more songs than they had intended to play before leaving the stage and heading out the back to the housebus at the rear of the venue.

This didn’t stop the cries of “encore”, “encore” from the well-oiled crowd. One guy leaning against the wrought iron fence and yelling “encore you assholes”.

As it happens Peter Hayes and Leah Shapiro were keen to come back out and were having a conversation about what songs to do next.

Then they opened the door to their temporary abode and took one look at Robert Been and realised they wouldn’t be doing anything.

He’d been fine earlier in the day but had come down with a virus that was just rearing its head. Let’s just say his pale face made Casper the Friendly Ghost look like he had a tan.
You’d never have guessed they were under the weather from their powerful performance last night which they felt was their best New Zealand gig.

I hope it’s not another seven years before B.R.M.C. rev up Kiwi crowds. My ears are ringing today to the pleasingly unending refrain “I bled the needle through, you beat the devil’s tattoo…” Wild.