Black Rebel Motorcycle Club blew away a sold-out Commodore crowd two nights ago (February 19th) with so much noise and volume that some of the band’s most sentimental moments lost their shine. But fans seemed to have preferred getting washed away by the 20-year veterans’ torrential outpour of blues- and garage-rock anyway.
Since forming in 2009, Seattle openers Night Beats have toured with The Black Angels, The Zombies, Jesus and Mary Chain, Black Lips, and The Growlers – all heavy-hitters within the realms of psych and garage. Night Beats have also worked with Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s Robert Levon Been before: He played bass on Night Beats’ 2016 third album Who Sold My Generation which he co-produced as well.
Like Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Nights Beats are a potent three-piece. Their wrecking ball rock is really the blues cloaked in psych. Hips shook to their chasmal grooves. The only time Night Beats fell flat was when singer/guitarist Danny Lee Blackwell shouted out Smokey Robinson “who was born on this day.”
It’s reasonable to expect Black Rebel Motorcycle Club to floor it from the get-go, but they ushered in their set with the looming chords of “Spook.” From the song’s badassed, bad attitude apex, they moved into “Little Thing Gone Wild,” another cut from their new album Wrong Creatures, out last month. Fans went wild every time the Club poured on more gasoline, of course, but I began losing track of the monstrous riffs. One oily guitar line bled into the next. I did identify “Berlin” and “Conscience Killer” though.
On record, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club rarely top the moments when they reduce volume and reverb, as their 2005 Americana-inspired album Howl attests. I knew I was not the only one who felt that way when fans sang along to Been shuffling through the dusty “Sympathetic Noose” alone onstage or when fans did the same for Peter Hayes when he performed “Devil’s Waitin'” by himself.
And it was not just these two gospel-tinged songs from Howl that stood out: Bluesy, steely guitars, whether just electric-acoustic or combined with electric, did too. Been and Hayes’ twin guitar bludgeoning against Leah Shapiro’s room-shaking kickdrum made songs like “Beat the Devil’s Tattoo” and “Ain’t No Easy Way” some of their best moments of the night, especially when the band managed to squeeze in tambourines, harmonicas, waltzing organ sounds (like on “Carried from the Start”), and the facsimile of a piano.
More than any other song, “Echo” suffered from high volume. The crunchy tone of sound being blasted too loudly through speakers gives songs like the snarling, adrenaline-pumping “Six Barrel Shotgun” their power, but volume only flattened beautiful numbers like “Echo,” and the crunchy tone robbed the song of its sentiment.
I was in the clear minority that at times wished Black Rebel Motorcycle Club turned down the volume. For everyone else, the band’s loud, chaotic, rough-around-the-edges rock with arena ambitions provided, like the name of the final encore, the “Sweetest Feeling.”