Live Review: Black Rebel Motorcycle Club @ Wonder Ballroom, PDX 5/26/2013

Words and photos by Brady Harvey

While everyone else was baking in the rain at Sasquatch this weekend, I had the extreme pleasure of seeing a favorite band of mine in Portland. By far one of the greatest live bands out there, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club is absolutely worth driving three hours to check out. After nabbing a photopass and finding the pit completely empty, I felt like I’d won the photographer lottery.

BRMC is a band who never lets down the crowd. When I saw them the first time at Coachella 2004, the electricity gave out just as they started. Instead of walking out or throwing a fit, they grabbed their acoustic guitars and a tambourine and set up right at the edge of the stage. I’d never seen a band so dedicated to a show that they’d change their entire setup on the fly to make it work. Needless to say, they won my respect that day and they’re a whole different story plugged in so I was more than a little excited to see them again.

As the lights dimmed at the Wonder Ballroom and the smoke rolled in from the side of the stage, they busted out of the gates with “Let the Day Begin,” a driving cover by 80’s band The Call. It’s a stand out track on their new album Specter at the Feast and a hat tip to singer/bassist Robert Levon Been’s father, Michael Been of The Call, who passed away suddenly backstage at a show in 2010. Michael ran sound for the band for years and was a mentor and backbone for the outfit. The new album on the whole is more introspective than previous records as the band collectively worked through the loss, filling the night’s set with soaring melodies amongst the heavy blues stompers, garage rockers, and barn burning neo-psych.

The band oozed cool throughout their versatile set spanning all six of BRMC’s albums and the crowd ate it up. Vocalist/guitarist Peter Hayes stalked the stage, while drummer Leah Shapiro laid down massive beats that shook the entire room to the core. Long standing ragers “Whatever Happened to My Rock n Roll”, “Spread Your Love,” and “Berlin” satiated the fuzz heads, while softer tracks like “Mercy,” and the new slow burner “Fire Walker,” captivated the audience into silence.

From watching their set and hearing these new tracks, it’s obvious that BRMC is a band who’ve been through hell and back together. Known for treating fans to intimate post show performances in parking lots, and stepping out onto the floors of venues, this show was no exception. Near the end of the set, Been stated “I don’t remember Portland being this fun,” and asked the crowd to climb over the barrier to get a little closer. As the first three rows gleefully bounded over the wall, one of BRMC’s crew members looked over to the nearest security guy, shrugged, and said, “Sorry dude.” Luckily for the audience, the security dude was fist pumping along with the rest of ‘em. As they closed out the night surrounded by a pack of smiling folks singing along, it was clear that BRMC aren’t here to sell out, or fade away, they’re here for the long haul, and they just want to keep playing music for other people’s ears. It doesn’t get more rock n’ roll than that.

Special thanks to the band for the photo pass and rocking my face clean off. I still haven’t found my nose.

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