The correct use of mere volume is amazing — it can make or break a band’s performance. Case in point: Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, who, in their 12-year existence, have used volume as a separate instrument in itself.
Tuesday night’s show at the Gothic was no exception — the place seemed to vibrate at times with the band’s intoxicating sound. The audience in the nearly sold-out house succumbed completely to its magic for over two hours, meandering in and out of a sort of hypnotic daze — sometimes lucid enough to sing along, but mostly just swaying, fist pumping and throbbing en masse.
The trio — Peter Hayes (guitar, vocals), Robert Been (bass, guitar, vocals) and Lean Shapiro (drums, who filled in for long time BRMC drummer Nick Jago, and has formerly acted as touring drummer for the Raveonettes) — filled those hours with signature, barreling rhythms and blues-based psychedelia to produce one of the more satisfying shows Denver has recently hosted.
Their performance showcased a genre of music that follows on tracks laid in rock ‘n roll by ‘60s bands as divergent as Blue Cheer, the Byrds and the Doors, as well as more contemporary groups like Echo & the Bunnymen, Loop and the Jesus & Mary Chain. But BRMC also added an intrinsic style that came straight out of the gig bags of Delta Blues artists such as Blind Willie McTell and the legendary Robert Johnson, though they (respectfully) broke these bluesmen’s musical molds to make their loud, brilliant and fuzzy mixture work.
“Ain’t No Easy Way” was a perfect example, as Been abandoned the bass (something he did repeatedly throughout the show) and joined Hayes’ expert slide work with a second rhythm guitar. Dripping with folky Americana, the tune wavered from there into a total psychedelic swirl, and then rejoined the easy blues again and again, at times recalling Black Keys’ methodology.
Later, in songs such as “Spread Your Love” and “Beat the Devil’s Tattoo” (the new album’s title song), the trio drew on more frantic rhythms, deeply echoed vocals and furious bass and guitar, which riled the audience perfectly. Then, on cue, the band members thrust themselves into one of the frenzied high points of the set with “Whatever Happened to My Rock ‘n Roll.” The hit brought the audience up to an adrenalized comprehension, just before pushing them back into bliss with “Stop.”
There were some endearing flubs as they played some of the forthcoming new album (due to be released March 8 in Europe, March 9 in the U.S.). Evidently the material is still new enough to be challenging, and definitely full of promise. On one tune (missed the title), Been tuned his low bass string up and down to the rhythm, producing an arousing, deep sway that vibrated across the crowd.
After a short break in the second hour of the show, they came back for another hour of encore — almost another complete set — and the crowd happily stayed with them note for note.
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Jennifer Cohen is a Lakewood-based freelance photographer and contributor to Reverb. Check out her website.