12 years ago, when guitar music was being liberated from rap-metal bondage by some of the most exciting proponents we’ve seen, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club first emerged, stalking through fag smoke and engine fumes and asking ‘Whatever Happened to My Rock and Roll?’ without a twinkle of irony. The none-more-black San Franciscans made for a dark, druggy and confrontational third man to the fashion-house punk of the Strokes and Jack White’s candy-cane blues revival. By night, they sacrificed at the altar of the Reid brothers. By day, they galloped after Frodo through Middle Earth. Rock was dangerous again.
It’s the eve of the release of album number seven, Spectre at the Feast, and the three-piece are still a sell-out act every time they darken Dublin’s Academy. Some things have changed: drummer Nick Jago has been replaced by former Raveonette Leah Shapiro; the major label and the magazine covers have gone. Some of the blackness of their song writing, meanwhile, has greyed slightly.
But there’s a consistency to this hard-grafting trio that is appreciated by many. They gift tonight’s throng with a greatest hits run early on – ‘Punk Song’, ‘Ain’t No Easy Way’, ‘Berlin’, ‘Love Burns’ – and empty their tanks by the end of a two-hour set. Affable bassist Robert Been is on ‘hello and thank you’ duties, leaving Shapiro to thump and smile between numbers. Band mystique, however, is the remit of guitarist Robert Hayes. He remains the faceless reaper, his sole spoken utterance consisting of a snarled “This song’s called ‘Teenage Disease’”. Wonderful, really.
Been battles through escalating chatter mid-set with a fine solo acoustic rendition of Dylan’s ‘Visions of Johanna’, which, along with Hayes’ harmonica blasts, signposts BRMC’s love of traditional Americana. Conversely, the heroin drone of ‘White Palms’ (“Jesus, I dare you to come back”), ‘Six-Barrel Shotgun’s filthy boogie (“Sunday’s sun never shone on me”) and shoegaze-y new number ‘Returning’ seem the obvious fauna of overcast Northern Europe. Unconcerned with such ruminations, the Academy is too busy bouncing as one to the glam stomp of ‘Spread Your Love’.
They skulk off without ceremony while gratitude rumbles the auditorium. BRMC have just executed rock ‘n’ roll’s most primal requisite – making you want to quit your job, buy a guitar and a leather jacket, and help answer that all-important question.