It’s been a long five years between drinks for iconic American rockers Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – both in terms of the album releases and visits to our shores.
Their tour this month in Australia comes just weeks after the release of their brilliant LP Wrong Creatures, with songs like “All Rise” amongst the best they’ve ever recorded. Indeed, in what is a rarity by any standards, Australia are amongst the first in the world to hear the new songs live, choosing our humble island home to kick off their world tour. Robert Levon Been did pay mention to this, saying they did this deliberately so they had a clear deadline to get the album done (“you were the first shows we booked as we were finishing the album”).
First up though were Victorian rockers Stonefield, who I hope don’t need much of an introduction at this point. The quartet rocked out, positioned side by side at the front of the stage, with the BRMC sitting behind them. Though the attention is on Amy on vocals and drums, it really is worth your time watching Sarah as she traverses two keyboards, often at the same time, and offers up backing vocals as well. They make it look so effortless at this point; truly Queens of their craft. And the new songs sound spectacular live.
Opening up with “Spook” off their latest LP, the iconic vocals of Peter Hayes and Robert Levon Been came through strong, as they shared duties on the track, accompanied by Leah Shapiro’s expert beats. It had the widely denim or leather-clad crowd moving. Or at least bopping. The trio then delved into a two hour journey through their acclaimed back catalogue, with their latest material taking up about a third of the set.
A few songs in, “Beat The Devil’s Tattoo” had the crowd singing along and saw the light show kick in; it would impress through the whole set, as would Peter’s harmonica, which shines on tracks like “Ain’t No Easy Way”. “King of Bones” followed, and saw the band briefly become a quartet, as a musician introduced as “Michael” assumed position on keys. Was it past band member Michael “Spike” Keating? I’m not sure. But it would be a long way to travel to help out on one song! Still, it fleshed it out nicely.
The set was filled with energy, though not much chit chat – though in a brief pause, Robert mentioned how “jittery” and “nervous” they were before coming out tonight, saying “it was really lovely that you all came out” – something that seemed surprisingly genuine from a band that is fast approaching “legendary” status. His solo and acoustic cover of Robert MacColls’s “Dirty Old Town” was a beautiful rendition (that had a notable singalong), and then Peter followed with solo guitar and harmonica for “Complicated Situation.”
It was the only time they performed seperately – in other moments, however, we were reminded just how strong they are as a vocal pair; songs like “Echo” a reminder that their harmonies are an underrated force behind the success of the band.
With the set leaning on the new material, the crowd really picked up the enthusiasm when they delivered a run of old favourites, jumping from “Red Eyes and Tears” to “Six Barrel Shotgun” and then “Spread Your Love”, which closed out the main set. It was a big finish after a slow start (by their standards), seeing the crowd surfers come out of the woodwork for one last ride. At its core, the 100 minute main set was well constructed, leaving the crowd gagging for more. Of course the band came back after a brief smoko; they weren’t done with us yet.
But it seemed a slight anticlimax to return with a lesser known track. You’ve got to remember: these songs were just released. But the band seemed very at home with the idea; Robert perched cross legged and playing the bass atop the stack of speakers as they launched into “Ninth Configuration” off the latest LP, which developed into a powerful wall of noise, and then closing the night with the rollicking fan favourite “Whatever Happened to My Rock and Roll?”. As good a question now as it was when they first released the song. Let’s just be thankful they’re back to burn that flame a little brighter.
BRMC played the Enmore Theatre tonight (23rd March 2018) and continue their tour tomorrow in Melbourne. Wrong Creatures is out now.