On what would have been Johnny Cash’s 78th birthday, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club kicked off their tour in Sacramento, sharing new songs from their upcoming album Beat the Devil’s Tattoo for the first time.
Last time I saw BRMC was their two night acoustic/electric stint at Great American Music Hall. It was a magical couple of nights, and I’d been anxiously awaiting this new album and tour for a year and a half.
The weather was supposed to be really bad for my drive to Sacramento, but it miraculously cleared up in time for me to make the 1.5 hour trek. I picked up my sidekick for the evening, Floraisadora, who I know through our shared NIN fandom. We arrived at Harlow’s, which was not at all what I would expect for a venue for this band. It’s kind of a swanky bar with a tier of booths in the back. But the stage is small and curved, and there’s a perfect spot on the right side that we gladly claimed.
The crowd slowly grew as we waited for the opener, but in chatting with people around us it seemed like a lot of them don’t really know the band. The place might have held 300 people by the time The Whigs hit the stage.
I didn’t have a chance to listen to The Whigs beforehand, and their opening statement that they are from Athens, GA concerned me. I have historically not liked bands out of the Athens scene- they tend to be a bit too indie rock for my tastes. However, The Whigs’ sound is psychedelic tinged enough to capture my interest for their set. Lead singer, Parker Gispert, wears his guitar very high up on his body. We nicknamed the bassist, Tim Deaux, ‘Hot Jesus’. I thought they were a good warm up for BRMC- but part of my attention was focused on Peter Hayes standing off to the side, tweaking the guitars and the setlist up until the very last minute.
I was excited to find out that this would be Floraisadora’s first BRMC show- it’s great to know when someone truly loves a band, and is seeing them for the first time and I KNOW they aren’t going to disappoint her.
BRMC’s music fills a void for me that no other band is really able to touch. It’s true rock ‘n roll that’s dark, sexy, romantic, and psychedelic. It possesses haunting gospel qualities which always takes me back to my Southern roots. The band has a certain mystique and they do their own thing, which has included releasing albums that have alienated some of their core fanbase (Howl, The Effects of 333). There’s been some skepticism regarding the new album and what direction it would take, and I had avoided listening to it so that I could hear the new tracks live for the first time. I love being able to do that, and I’m so glad I was able to do so with this band.
This is probably going to sound weird (well, maybe not, coming from me), but the number 333 has been appearing all over the place for me. Like when you look at the clock, and it’s 3:33. I know other people have this, too- in my teens my number was 23, then it became 666, and now it seems to have changed. I thought it was symbolic considering the last album title and took it as meaning I was going to have a really good show.
We spied the setlist and couldn’t resist analyzing it. Several scratched out songs confirmed my suspicion that Hayes was altering the setlist until the last minute. We could also see that it was very heavy on the new songs, and, as Floraisadora pointed out, contained ‘Red Eyes and Tears’, which she knew was my most listened to BRMC song thanks to Last.fm.
The stage dimmed and became veiled in fog. As soon as the band positioned themselves on stage, they started with the new track, ‘War Machine’. It was so loud I thought perhaps my earplugs weren’t in properly, but they were. Immediately I was reminded of how great this band is to watch; Robert and Peter are both such emotional performers, and the way that they trade off on every aspect of the music makes for a lot of variety. And I would be remiss not to mention Leah, the new-ish drummer, who is an intense, focused performer. I feel bad dismissing her from this piece’s title…but….you know.
I love watching Hayes play the guitar. He truly treats it like his partner, and as I stated in my review before, he almost dances with it. This time I was able to see how he works all of the pedals and switches, which I find immensely interesting even though I don’t understand it. Floraisadora and I watched the Ground Control panel of switches, which had a screen of text as he would switch things up, indicating what song was coming.
The first three songs were new- and they sounded really good- but I was ready for it when they played ‘White Palms’. Then, I had forgotten how good ‘Shade of Blue’ is. ‘The Line’ is so beautiful- Robert is such a great singer to watch. You can just see the vocals emerging from him, and it reminds me that the voice truly is an instrument.
‘Aya’ was the first new song that I truly fell in love with. Slow and piercing, it is distinctly BRMC.
Then I remembered that I brought my Flip camera. The first song I recorded was the foot stomper, ‘Ain’t No Easy Way’.
Robert talked a little bit to the crowd, thanking people for coming out and saying that it’s been a long time. He also mentioned that this was the first time they were playing the new songs in front of strangers, reminding me exactly why I made the trek out there. It was a special night for us all.
At one point, Hayes lit a cigarette and crouched down to take a few drags before resuming playing. Yes, it’s a classic rock star move, and I love it.
At this point, Floraisadora turned to me and said, ‘we still have 9 more songs!’
Robert asked us what we’d like to hear. My choice was ‘Rifles’, but we got ‘Sympathetic Noose’. During these quieter songs, the chatting crowd was ridiculously loud. Next was ‘The Toll’, which I recorded again (quieter songs are easier on the camera).
And then I was able to capture a new song, ‘River Styx’:
It would be ‘Evol’ that instantly became my favorite new track, more for the lyrics than anything. “I wanna feel love again” pretty much sums up my life right now. It gave me goosebumps.
I knew ‘Red Eyes and Tears’ was coming, and I tensed up in anticipation. This song is so amazing live, particularly the rendition they did this evening. I really wish I had recorded it, but I can never do that with the songs I love. They did something to the ending that just took it to another level.
No more fear, no more fear I’m in love
Losing sensation for you my love I fear
Losing sensation for you my love I fear
No more fear, no more fear I’m in love
The set was almost 2.5 hours, and it still left me wanting more. We patiently waited to ask for setlists at the end, and Floraisadora graciously assisted me in getting a crew member to give me the one we’d been staring at, only to have someone take the other one we were trying to get for her. Then someone else handed us guitar picks. We were standing there looking at Floraisadora’s camera (she took 1000 pics- I’ll post some here soon), when Hayes’ guitar tech came over to me and asked if I’d like to have Peter sign my setlist. I was like…ummm…yessss, please! So he told us to wait there. I’m thinking that this is really funny, because obviously he saw me, mouth agape, the whole set in front of him, otherwise why would he have not said Robert? Mildly embarrassing. Anyway, we waited around but apparently he slipped by us and I was not going to go bug him outside while he was smoking a cigarette.
It was 2am by the time we left Harlow’s. After dropping Floraisadora at home, I sped back to San Francisco, arriving at my apartment at exactly 3:33 am.
I will be catching the record release show at Slim’s on March 9th, which just happens to be kind of a momentous day for me as well.
Visit Florisadora’s blog for amazing pictures of the evening.