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Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

Fusing Detroit garage (a la The STOOGES) and the buzz of primeval shoegazing bands between the JESUS & MARY CHAIN to The VERVE, San Francisco’s BLACK REBEL MOTORCYCLE CLUB had all the elements to keep their motor running way past their initial post-millennium breakthrough. If the Marlon Brando film, The Wild One – from which the BRMC gang had abducted their cool moniker – had been sound-tracked by this particular combo, all proverbial hell would have ensued.
Friends since their days at high school, dual frontmen/guitarists/musicians Robert Turner (aka Robert Levon Been, son of The CALL’s Michael Been) and Peter Hayes (formerly of The BRIAN JONESTOWN MASSACRE), eventually recruiting Iranian-born/English-raised sticksman Nick Jago. After extensively touring between the garage club scenes from the Bay Area to Los Angeles, the trio of leather-clad, brooding dirty-boy rock’n’rollers decided to issue a self-produced demo of thirteen tracks, which finally wormed its way on to the A&R desk of Virgin Records. The group were signed in late 2000, and headed off on a tour with The DANDY WARHOLS across America, pulling in much plaudits and a hysteric fanbase from the college circuit.
They arrived on the shores of Britain just in time to feel the hype of the new garage revival (The STROKES, et al), and were thoroughly lauded by the NME and rock stars such as NOEL GALLAGHER and the J&MC’s Jim Reid. This was even before their debut album, B.R.M.C. (2001) {*8} was released, so one can imagine the commotion when it turned out to be one of the finest rock’n’roll albums of the decade. Fuzzy guitar, jiving choruses, big hairy sweaty percussion – it had it all. When released in Britain the following January, the set crashed the Top 30, while they sold out an entire tour before going on the road with OASIS. More align with post-Brit-pop than that of their American compatriots, they were virtually ignored in their homeland, while three of the album’s finest songs (`Love Burns’, `Spread Your Love’ and `Whatever Happened To My Rock’n’Roll (Punk Song)’) steered into the UK Top 50.
The cocksure and defiantly titled, TAKE THEM ON, ON YOUR OWN (2003) {*7}, careered into the UK Top 3 (and assuredly the US Top 50), defragging the vocals and letting rip on high-octane protest songs such as `Stop` (their first UK Top 20 entry), `Generation’ and `US Government’.
Inevitably, conflict between the tumultuous trio spiralled after their label unceremoniously dropped them in the summer of 2004; such ill communication leading to Hayes and Jago fighting after a Scottish gig; the latter would take leave of absence and book into a rehab clinic; a year previously he’d accepted an NME award in complete silence – for nine minutes!
As finishing touches were added to their transitional third set, hostilities were put to one side as Jago returned to the fold. R.C.A. had duly taken up the reins, but gone were BRMC of old – they were more folk-club than motorbike club.
In the spirit of fellow rock’n’roll believers PRIMAL SCREAM, the duo/trio (assisted by T-BONE BURNETT and dad Michael Been on piano) let their roots flag fly on HOWL (2005) {*7}. An album which could have been recorded by different artists from different decades (the title referenced Allen Ginsburg), Hayes sang like a beat-fevered bard and the band made like, well.. The BAND – at least in spirit. Chart-wise, the born-again makeover didn’t do much harm either, with the vintage blues, `Ain’t No Easy Way’, almost making the Top 20, while the album itself came within shouting distance of the UK Top 10. Country, gospel, blues and the kitchen sink were thrown in to the mix for `Shuffle Your Feet’, `Still Suspicion Holds You Tight’ and the DYLAN-esque `Restless Sinner’, although some gloomy glory was restored on the epic finale, `The Line’.
The reason then to revert to full-flown grunge-meister noise-mongering on album number four, BABY 81 (2007) {*5} was indeed baffling. Forsaking song-craft for cliched lyrics and run-of-the-mill riffs, BRMC were virtually J&MC incarnate – it’s just that the music world had moved on two decades. Still, it sold well enough initially to secure a Top 20 spot in Britain (Top 50 in America), and despite a bit of exposure for singles `Weapon Of Choice’ and `Berlin’, the over-produced set was generally thought of as a damp squib.
Coming out on the back of an instrumental/ambient download-only album, THE EFFECTS OF 333 (2008) {*4} – released on their own Abstract Dragon imprint – and with Leah Shapiro (from The RAVEONETTES) taking over Jago’s vacant role, BRMC were finally back in action on Vagrant Records. As trends go, one would have to forgive them (or their label bosses) for getting in on the DVD/CD-package act, when the 2007-recorded LIVE (2009) {*6} served out only a bit of time.
BEAT THE DEVIL’S TATTOO (2010) {*7} was the amalgam of gutsy fuzz-rawk and the odd acoustic folk ballad, while the retro came in the shape of the stoned Madchester-styled `Bad Blood’, the T. REX-esque `Conscience Killer’, the taut `Mama Taught Be Better’ and the slipper-gazing `Half-State’.
Spurred by the untimely death by heart attack of his soundman father Michael, singer/bassist Robert Levon Been (plus Hayes and Shapiro) took some time to reflect on the loss, and this time-out of sorts helped in some way to take stock of their musical aspirations. Exactly three years from their previous set, majesty and maturity were found on SPECTER AT THE FEAST (2013) {*8} – a transatlantic Top 40 success and their best since their decade-plus-old debut. As expected, introspective and heart-worn, `Some Kind Of Ghost’ (tracked after the adrenalin rush of `Teenage Disease’), `Sometimes The Light’, `Returning’, closer `Lose Yourself’ and a fitting cover of The CALL’s `Let The Day Begin’, were almost SPIRITUALIZED in their layered lilts and plaintive passion. A concert double-CD/DVD package – recorded at the Trianon Theatre on February 24, 2014 – entitled LIVE IN PARIS (2015) {*7}, was simultaneously filmed for a documentary.
To allow Leah Shapiro time to recuperate after her operation to cure a rare neurological condition (Chiari malformation) – which curtailed her drumming somewhat – BLACK REBEL MOTORCYCLE CLUB were back in fine fettle in early 2018 for WRONG CREATURES {*7}. Produced by veteran Nick Launey, the group-penned (UK Top 40) set was as eerily closer to the spirits as ever before; the gothic and gritty `Spook’, `King Of Bones’, `Haunt’ and `Question Of Faith’, more in touch with God than the JESUS & MARY CHAIN.
© MC Strong 2002-2006/GRD // rev-up MCS Mar2013-Jan2018

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