Black Rebel Motorcycle Club pays tribute to Hunter Thompson, plays Belly Up Aspen
IF YOU GO …
What: Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
Where: Belly Up Aspen
When: Saturday, May 19, 9 p.m.
How much: $35/general admission; $55/reserved
Tickets: Belly Up box office; www.bellyupaspen.com
When the going gets weird, the weird turn to Hunter S. Thompson.
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club has done so on its new album, channeling the Woody Creeker and gonzo journalist’s iconic Circus Circus casino phantasmagoria from “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” on the new song “Circus Bazooko.”
“Hopefully it’s a respectful tip of the hat,” Black Rebel’s Robert Levon Been said in a recent phone interview from a tour break in Los Angeles.
The band comes to Thompson’s town and to Belly Up Aspen on Saturday for a much-anticipated offseason show. It’s the band’s only Colorado stop on an ongoing world tour.
“Circus Bazooko” is a trippy psychedelic freak-out from a trio best known for its dark and hard-charging lo-fi rock songs. Been said that as he was working on the song, he was drawn into some new and bizarre sonic terrain that recalled the Circus Circus scene. The song takes its title from the casino name used in the 1998 film adaptation.
“The whole point was to try and go as far out there as possible, outside of our comfort zone,” Been said. “As I wrote, every time I closed my eyes and imagined where to go next it was just the furthest, weirdest place that always felt like the right step. So the title is a nod to him and always taking the furthest, weirdest step.”
Though the song is the band’s first overt tribute to Thompson, Been said the “Hell’s Angels” author’s work and his spirit have long been an inspiration for Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.
“I love hearing about the political race and the battle for sheriff,” Been said. “He’s always been an inspiring figure, and not just as a writer. I think everyone finds something that they identify with, just a way of living, even if it’s the mad part of the brain or acknowledging the color in life and a hysterical kind of feeling that his writing captured.”
The band — known to fans as “BRMC” — is on the road in support of the new album “Wrong Creatures.” Released in January, it marks their first release in five years and their first since drummer Leah Shapiro’s remarkable comeback from brain surgery and a rare brain condition.
“It just felt pretty blessed to dodge the bullet,” Been said of Shapiro’s return to health and performance. “It makes you appreciate the gift of playing music and not to take it for granted.”
BRMC started work on the new album after Shapiro bounced back in 2015. They made the record close to home in Los Angeles — a change for a band that’s more often sequestered itself elsewhere (in Philadelphia for “Howl,” in the mountains near Santa Cruz and the desert near Joshua Tree for “Specter of the Feast”).
The record is a mix of new songs and some with longer gestation periods. “Little Thing Gone Wild,” for instance, a machine gun blast of garage punk, has been in the works for six years. Been described it as “building a song like Frankenstein from different pieces, mostly in Pro Tools, growing it and attaching parts to it and writing it, just mapping it out.”
He calls the recording process a “battle between the brain and the body,” alternating between follow-your-gut inspiration and more meticulous artistic plans. On “Wrong Creatures,” it makes for a mix of old-school rock exhilaration and experimentation.
Since they began touring these songs over the winter, they’ve often kicked off concerts with “Spook,” a swampy bit of dirge rock. From there, the band has tended to improvise sets, bouncing between “Wrong Creatures” tracks and more familiar ones, choosing songs based on the crowd’s mood.
“It sets a temperature in the room and things go from there,” Been said of using “Spook” as an opener. “I like thinking of a show that way, as a bit of a trip we’re taking people on.”
Over the past 15 years, BRMC has become a standard bearer for swaggering, hard-edged, guitar-based rock music. They outlasted the lo-fi retro trend of the early 2000s to become an institution and a dependably mind-blowing live act. Rock veterans at this point, Been and his mates keep the next generation of bands in mind.
“I don’t like to use the word rock ‘n’ roll, but it’s just the spirit and inspiration for making music and letting it light other people’s way — the same way that it helped light ours,” he said. “You give everything you’ve got to the songwriting and performing so that one person gets it, and then they’re burdened with the task of taking the torch further than we ever could.”
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