While critical response to their career so far has ranged from glowing praise to sneering cynicism, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club have always seemed to maintain a loyal, fervent fanbase – although you’d have struggled to believe that at the beginning of Monday night’s show at Leeds Academy.
Granted, starting out with ‘War Machine’ seemed like an odd move to me, given that it’s one of the more turgid tracks from latest album Beat The Devil’s Tattoo. But the dirty rock choruses of follow-up ‘Mama Taught Me Better’ should surely have got some bodies moving – instead, the crowd continue to stand impassively as the band rock out. Despite the rapturous applause afterwards, it just feels wrong. ‘Red Eyes And Tears’ gets a few cheers, but material from the band’s newest album elicits little response – even the title track doesn’t get the crowd going. ‘Ain’t No Easy Way’ almost threatens to start the party, but it’s not until the one-two punch of ‘Berlin’ and ‘Weapon Of Choice’ that people finally start to get into it. Of course, with the crowd suitably fired up, Robert Been responds to their chants of “let’s go fucking mental” by sitting down at a piano and playing ‘Long Way Down’. It’s almost as if they don’t *want* the crowd to go crazy for them at times – see also the earlier decision to play ‘Shade Of Blue’, arguably an obscure selection from Take Them On, On Your Own. Nevertheless, after a jaw-dropping rendition of ‘Awake’ that fills the room with glorious noise, they finally give the crowd what they want – Been attempts to affect an English accent as he chants “let’s go fucking mental” back at the crowd, but he can’t help cracking up in the process. What’s next is predictable but thrilling regardless of that – ‘Whatever Happened To My Rock ‘N’ Roll’ sees the crowd drop any pretence of reserve and duly go “fucking mental”.
The band obviously feel like digging out a real rarity after that, as Been starts their encore with a solo acoustic rendition of ‘Mercy’ from the Howl Sessions EP. Unfortunately, the beautiful song is marred by incessant chatter from the audience – “This is shit,” I hear one philistine next to me exclaim before wandering off to the bar. He’ll get what he wants soon enough, however, as the band slowly build the ante back up before unleashing ‘Six Barrel Shotgun’ and ‘Spread Your Love’ in quick succession – and the latter sees the biggest response from the crowd that we’ve seen all night.
Indeed, ‘Spread Your Love’ seems like such a natural way to end the set that the band’s second encore can’t help but feel slightly incongruous, despite the crowd’s cheers for more. But hey, who am I kidding, I’m not going to say no to more BRMC -especially as it means that they finally play ‘Stop’, a personal favourite of mine. They then finish off the night with ‘Shadow’s Keeper’ – which first surprises me because it’s not an obvious choice, and then surprises me again by being really damn good live. Of course, the band have to end on their own terms, and that wilful obscurity comes out to play again as the wind the song down, segueing seamlessly into ‘Open Invitation’ – yes, the bonus track from Howl, which ends the show on an unexpectedly pretty note.
In the end, I suppose, it didn’t matter that the crowd only went crazy for the more straight-up rock tracks. Songs like ‘Awake’, ‘Mercy’, Shadow’s Keeper’ and ‘Long Way Down’ show that the band have more strings to their bow – and really, wouldn’t we be bored of them by now if they’d just put out an album of 10 ‘Spread Your Love’s every couple of years? I think we would.
Setlist, 26th April 2010, Leeds Academy:
Mama Taught Me Better
Red Eyes And Tears
Beat The Devil’s Tattoo
Shade Of Blue
Ain’t No Easy Way
Weapon Of Choice
Long Way Down
Whatever Happened To My Rock ‘N’ Roll (Punk Song)
Shuffle Your Feet
Six Barrel Shotgun
Spread Your Love