Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - Saturday June 2nd, 2007 @ the 9:30 Club
In the run up to Saturday night's RC event, I had been doing some thinking about what makes for a good rock band name. I was struck by how many of today's bands have the word "Black" as part of their name including some that we have seen in recent years: The Black Lips, The Black Keys, The Black Angels, and this week's act, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club (BRMC), to name a few. Expand that list further to include the Black Crowes, Godspeed you Black Emperor, Black Flag, Black 47, Black Grape, Black Eyed Peas, and perhaps the most obvious, Black Sabbath, and one can start to see that "Black" holds a certain cache in the rock world. I decided to investigate this further.
In a non-scientific study using allofmp3.com as the search engine, there were 77 artists returned when the word "Black" was used as a keyword. Compare that number to the 34 artists returned when searching for "Red," and the 31 artists returned when searching using "White" as a keyword, and you see that there are more bands with "Black" in their names. "Blue," came in at 47 artists, and if I didn't list your favorite color's results, you can look into it yourself. It's clearly not that difficult to do.
"So what?" you might be asking... So what indeed. I started thinking about this partly as a result of a recent study on colors and sports teams. As reported by Tedwin's National Geographic dot com, "[w]hen opponents of a game are equally matched, the team dressed in red is more likely to win." So now you know why the Arizona Diamondbacks ditched the teal and dress in red. I also seem to recall an effort to offer more sports merchandise in black because it sold better. I can't find any evidence to support that claim, but just because I don't have evidence doesn't make it untrue.
So does this same concept hold true for rock? When dueling rock bands are equally matched, does the band with "Black" in their name rock more? I think the answer is going to be "yes." Why else would so many bands choose it? To test my theory, I ask you to consider the following two bands: "The Counting Crows" and "The Black Crowes." Both are "crow" bands and popular at the same time in recent history. Accepting that both of these bands have their own liabilities, I think it's obvious that "The Black Crowes" would bash in the teeth of "The Counting Crows" in a rock off. Don't forget that Adam Duritz from the Counting Crows is NOT BLACK. Although he appears to be, it does not help his band's cause.
The lesson here for any band looking for that extra edge: consider modifying your name. "The Black Accents," has a nice ring to it, no? Although I should caution you that this is not fool-proof (I'm looking at you band-formerly-known-as Bow Tie Review).
So how about a review of the BRMC show?
This was the 4th BRMC show that I have seen dating back to their appearance at the 9:30 Club as an opening act to Spiritualized a few years ago. Now that was a fantastic show! BRMC rocked the entire place hard enough to keep us awake for the dream/sleep-inducing Spiritualized that followed. I remember thinking that BRMC had an exceptionally good light show as well (but maybe that was borrowed from Spiritualized, I can't say). Since that show, however, and most notably on their tour supporting Howl, I have not come away as enthusiastic after their performance. Perhaps it is a result of unrealistic expectations, but I also think that the release of Howl and the acoustic roots-rock vibe it offers - while exceptional in my mind - is so different from the ethereal sound of their earlier work that it makes for a disjointed concert experience. Consider the grand entrance that BRMC attempted to make on Saturday night. They had a sold out crowd largely packed into the lower level of the 9:30 Club, complete with a security wall at the stage (which Jumbo Slice pointed out had not been seen/necessary for any of our previous trips to the 930). They played some low-fidelity intro that seemed to have technical difficulties from the beginning, and then they filled the place with fake smoke and used a few too many strobe lights to grab the crowd's attention (apologies to the epileptics who were injured/killed). This big production fits the Jesus and Mary Chain sound that they bring, but doesn't really work for the Howl tracks like Devil's Waitin'. All the smoke and strobe lights and intro music does little for this act. They would be better without these klunky fx. I assign blame to Robert Levon Been (formerly Robert Turner). He seems to be the major dramatist in the band. His climb on top of the large speaker stack seemed a bit too premeditated and was not as cool as when Nic Offer from !!! did the same thing last month.
Having said all that, the first thing I should say about the show itself was that it was long. Very long. BRMC were very giving of their time. For the most part, this was welcomed by the large crowd, but attendance began dropping at the mid-way point, and there was a stretch of about 25 minutes that I could have happily skipped over. But with the exception of some persistent feedback, they performed great, and I enjoyed the level of rock on display. Playing for what seemed like 2 hours, the band pulled out some of the best for last in a long encore that included requests from the audience (which I don't like as it allows someone to mistakenly request a song that has already been played - awkward - thankfully that didn't happen). The tracks that they performed from Howl seemed to receive the best reaction from the crowd overall. I'd give the show a B+. Had it been condensed down to all the songs that I really liked, they would have earned an A-, but in this case they offered a bit too much.