In the second half of the second decade of the third millennium, everyone’s pipping off someone. Originality died in the later years of the second millennium. So what it comes down to nowadays is what you rip, and how well you do it.
Taking The Jesus and Mary Chain as a starting point is always going to be a winner. It’s a comparison that plagued them for the entirety of their career, which now spans some sixteen years. Not that Black Rebel Motorcycle Club sound like The Jesus and Mary Chain, but they’ve taken notes from their style, the swagger, and the blues-based crunch of ‘Darklands’ by way of a less obvious access route. And it’s working for them: the fact they can draw a more than respectable crowd to the 2000+ capacity 02 on a chill Monday night in October is quite something, especially given that the new album isn’t even due until early next year.
Before BRMC nonchalantly stroll onstage, Texan duo Restavrant whip up a primitive hillbilly racket. It’s not every day you see a drummer using an inverted brewing bucket as a part of their percussion set-up. There’s something metallic on the cymbal, too, and their whole rough-hewn home-made assemblage is part of a ramshackle junkyard ethos which places their brand of gritty, industrial edged county / blues in Mad Max / Repo Man pot-apocalyptic territory. Such stylisations ought to grate, by rights, but they play with such passion and conviction that they win over audience members even as cynical as me. They have some decent tunes too, and leave the stage to rapturous applause.
Robert Levon Been has all the moves, all the poses. Whether it’s a bass, electric or acoustic guitar, he brandishes it like a shotgun, firing from the hip, and strikes an impressive silhouette against the backdrop of ever-shifting coloured lights and a dense drift of smoke. Presentation matters, and BRMC exude rock ‘n’ roll every inch of the way: they’re the definition of cool, but as tonight’s show reminds us, they’ve more than got the tunes to back it up.
With the upcoming album, ‘Wrong Creatures’, not scheduled for release for another three months, they’re not overly pushing the new material. They do slip four new songs into the 24-song set, but this leaves ample room for a career-spanning selection which packs in all the crowd-pleasers, ranging from ‘Spread Your Love’ to ‘Beat the Devil’s Tattoo’ (dropped early in the set) and ‘Stop’.
The reason BRMC have retained their fanbase, and why so many return on every tour, is because they’re one of the most consistent live acts going. And yet their shows never feel excessively polished: there’s never a sense that this is a band going through the motions. Almost 20 years into their career, they still seem hungry, and brimming with energy and a real desire to make every show special. It’s clear that they love doing what they do. And the crowd love it, too, especially when Robert really whips it up at the end of the main set, leaning into the crowd and getting up close and personal during a truly blistering rendition of ‘Whatever Happened to My Rock 'n' Roll (Punk Song)’.
They could have readily left it there, and perhaps should: the encore of the unreleased ‘Ninth Configuration’ brought things down a few notches from the frenzied climax of the main set. But by the same token, it’s a great tune which augers well for the new album, and no-one left feeling short-changed.
Bringing form like this on a stop-gap tour, they’ve upped expectations for the next time around – and no doubt they’ll deliver.