Review: Black Rebel Motorcycle Club at Belly Up Aspen
Closing out a fierce and no-frills-necessary concert Saturday night at Belly Up, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club tore through a final bit of raw and distorted guitar rock with Robert Levon Been repeating the chorus question “Whatever happened to my rock ‘n’ roll?”
It was a fitting way to end this one-hour-and-45-minute set of pure throwback rock that surely left this fervent offseason crowd asking similar questions: What happened to all the guitar-based rock bands that could pull off a show like this? What happened to cool rock stars like BRMC’s Been, Peter Hayes and Leah Shapiro? What happened to bands with this kind of hypnotic mystique rather than manicured Instagram feeds and personal brands?
Louder than bombs and cooler than ice, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club is carrying the torch for rock.
There was no banter at this show, no B.S., no bells and whistles. Just the leather-clad band, its quiver of guitars and basses, Shapiro’s sturdy backbone of beats, a bit of atmosphere from a smoke machine and minimalist lighting and 20 songs of ripping guitar and moody vocals with touches of metal, blues, rockabilly, some punk and even a touch of folk (in a two-song acoustic interlude).
The band is touring in support of the recently released album “Wrong Creatures” and they opened the set with a pair of new songs — the dark and swampy “Spook” and the roaring lead single “Little Thing Gone Wild.” But they kicked the show into gear with “Beat the Devil’s Tattoo” — their swaggering, boot-stomping 2010 hit showcasing the best of the band’s throwback lo-fi rock.
The trio is built as a live band, the kind of act that doesn’t do itself justice on studio recordings. Another new song, “Echo,” for example, is a conventional middle-of-the-road rock song that comes off as bland on the record, but picked up a harder edge and intrigue in live performance.
Been and Hayes traded vocals and swapped out different guitars and basses for nearly every song, squeezing an array of sounds and tones out of their instruments and seemingly simple setup — Hayes often blowing a harmonica, Been breaking out slide guitar on “Ain’t No Easy Way” and keyboard samples for the bizarre “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”-inspired “Circus Bazooko.”
The band is more than a little aloof onstage. Sometimes you wonder if they realize there’s a crowd watching them. But then they remind you of the command they hold on the audience. Been, during “Devil’s Tattoo,” simply raised a hand to the crowd, signaling them to sing along with the chorus, and got everybody going. On “Berlin” — an anthemic rocker with a “Welcome to the revolution!” chorus — Been stepped to the edge of the stage to dramatically rip a guitar solo. But those kinds of flourishes were few during this show, and were unnecessary for a band that kept the crowd rapt with the music instead of other theatrics.
They didn’t bother with an encore. Instead, they worked up the crowd with a riotous three-song flourish — “Six Barrel Shotgun,” “Spread Your Love,” “Whatever Happened to My Rock ‘n’ Roll (Punk Song)” — and left the fans wanting more.
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