Monday, December 20, 2010

Belfast@Mandela Hall review

They say that the job of the support band is to get the crowd ‘warmed up’, but ask any band and they will tell you that their job is to blow the headliners clean out of the water, and The Minutes are no exception. In many ways, this Dublin three-piece were a natural choice for this support slot as Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s influence shines through in their music. But The Minutes are no half-baked tribute act.

Just back from a short European tour, the band delivers their own blend of hard, blues punk-rock with short, sharp bursts. For a definition, look no further than their opener ‘Secret History’ – one minute and 58 seconds of pure unharnessed energy. The band is no one-trick pony, however, with tracks such as ‘Fleetwood’ demonstrating their modern interpretation of rock, coming on like a mix of early Kings of Leon and The Strokes.

Another rule of bands is to have a strong opener, and a strong closer. The Minutes chose to go out in style with their version of the blues classic ‘In My Time of Dying’. Six minutes of slide guitar and fuzz bass, the audience are now at their mercy. As the song reaches the coda, Mark Austin rips off his guitar and screams the final few lines into the pick-ups and mic.

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club come to the stage knowing that they have a hard job topping The Minutes, but of course, they strut on stage with their trademark biker cool. BRMC open with the title track off their latest album Beat the Devil’s Tattoo. Whereas many bands of their vintage would choose to open with a classic, BRMC’s cult status means that there is no need to pander to blow-ins. The band have a very simple, but effective stage show: blinding white light that contrasts sharply with the pure darkness of the room. The band, all in black, emerges from the shadows every so often with the aid of dimmed spotlights pulsating to the music. And the audience, approximately aged 21-65, are given their fill – the band play for two-and-a-half hours.

Such patience does not go unrewarded, however, from the strobe-laden ‘Whatever Happened to My Rock ‘n’ Roll’ and ‘Berlin’ to Robert Been’s 20-minute acoustic set in the middle of the show, which includes his rendition of ‘Dirty Old Town’. It is at these moments that the band’s personality shines out from the tough guy facade. Robert Been comes across as almost shy as he takes on what little talking the band does, recalling the in-store gig earlier that day (which was a gig in itself at 40 minutes) and thanking their stage crew as tonight is the last of their European tour. 

To finish, Been (bass and vocals) and Peter Hayes (guitar and vocals) remain on stage and all that is visible is the dim glow of Peter’s cigarette. Robert starts into ‘All You Do Is Talk’, compliment by his bass with occasional harmonies and guitar licks from Peter. The loyal crowd chant along as if in communal prayer as they stare up at the band. The song gradually comes to a halt and the instruments drop out, followed by the vocals. As the band walk off humbled, the crowd continue to sing. The lights go down and the crowd fall silent. With a nod to the season, ‘White Christmas’ plays as the crowd disperse into the night.

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club don’t rely on backing players or tracks to fill in their live sound – what you see is what you get. A true Rock ‘n’ Roll band, no bullshit. Barry Fahy