It’s official: doctors are prescribing too much Ritalin. The attention surplus inside the Billboard tonight is ridiculous. It’s a crowd whose good time is directly equivalent to how cool they look. My friends have their fun; they jump, they dance, they wail, they have their ball. Then they have drinks poured over their heads by a raven-haired girl in tight black jeans who should’ve stayed home and listened to the CD. She could’ve donned her Snuggie and nestled in with a nice cup of cocoa and her copy of Beat the Devil’s Tattoo, occasionally pausing tracks to criticize her boyfriend’s childish hair and his inability to perform in the sack. Whatever happened to my…well, you know. Mosh pit etiquette isn’t particularly convoluted or complex. It skims along the lines of keeping your elbows down, helping people up when they fall and not shoving people because you’ve decided they’re having too much fun. But at least they’re moving; the rest of the crowd remains idle, barely being able to summon a handclap. I guess doing so would give too much away.
Being at a Black Rebel Motorcycle Club concert is like being in line to audition for a Black Rebel Motorcycle Club movie. Everyone looks exactly like each other and are all trying to affect an air of ersatz cool they picked up from Easy Rider and Cheech & Chong movies. A guitar loop over the PA signals the genuine article’s stage entry.
Discussing our hopes for the setlist, we reach the conclusion that we don’t want them to play War Machine, which the band promptly does. Though easily the worst song on the new album, the live orchestration breathes new life into this mediocre NIN-throwback. The rest of the set achieves similar feats.
On Beat the Devil’s Tattoo the band have finally learnt some restraint in the studio after the decent but bloated Baby 81. However, a live show is no place for restraint and BRMC is a band that understands that. The new songs like Mama Taught Me Better, Aya and Shadow’s Keeper, independent of production, fit in with the layered, rich textures of the band’s early material.
Mid-set, Robert Levon Been takes the stage to walk the territory usually stalked by band mate Peter Hayes – that of the mini-solo acoustic set. Guitar-slung, Robert recites Edgar Allan Poe’s Annabel Lee. Unlike the band’s recorded piano ballad, he recites without instrumentation in his stoned slur-speech manner: ‘I was a child and she was a child/In this kingdom by the sea/But we loved with a love that was more than love/I and my Annabel Lee.’ He’s turned Russel St. Melbourne into the Bowery – it takes me back to my first year of uni and my obligatory Beat Generation phase. The sombre, mournful poem adds further poignancy to the lamenting hymn that is Sympathetic Noose.
The band’s dynamic hasn’t been noticeably revolutionised between personnel changes. Former Raveonettes live drummer Leah Shapiro has Nick Jago’s ‘dropkick drumming style’ down to a tee. The trio warp, distort and groove through ten minute jams on the fan-asserted classics Six Barrel Shotgun, White Palms and Whatever Happened to My Rock and Roll. It’s gypsy business as usual. The front row appeasement contingent reaches for fey Robert’s hair and his legs, which look as though they’re ready to snap at any moment. Wish I could say the same for the audience.