I’m not from L.A. I don’t live in L.A. I’m a fairly recent transplant to California. I cut my teeth at gigs in New York City and Philly and Trenton, and pretty much all I did when I lived in Liverpool was go to gigs. And nowhere else have I encountered crowds like the ones at gigs in Los Angeles — they redefine the idea of standing still. Sometimes they watch the band; sometimes they watch each other. How does a band like Black Rebel Motorcycle Club — a band whose big smashing wall of sound flips itself up and inside out for an acoustic moment from time to time — not incite a frothy swirl of bodies? I’m confounded.
Despite the crowd, the band does not disappoint. Watching these musicians tease their instruments to explosion is mesmerizing. From the opening kick in the pants that was “Took out a Loan” (off Baby 81, released a week before the show via Sony), they are clearly enjoying themselves. Peter Hayes said it was the biggest show San Francisco-based B.R.M.C. has played in the U.S., which is surprising because much bigger venues in England are packed for the performance.
The group mainly stuck to overt rockers. Searing versions of “Six Barrel Shotgun,” “Love Spreads,” “Whatever Happened to My Rock and Roll” scream past shaking their metaphorical fists. “Weapon of Choice” should be a huge sing-along, but the L.A. showed little interest. I won’t waste my love on a nation, indeed. I won’t waste my love on a sing-along either, apparently.
“Not What You Wanted” could have been fun to dance to, but I’ve learned you just don’t do that here, so I just nodded my head and sang under my breath. Nick Jago looked like he was threading his drumsticks through thick honey on “666 Conducer,” with all its heavy-lidded Zeppelin shuffle and thump. The set is shot through with strobe lights aplenty, and when the lights stay off (at Hayes’s request) during “Am I Aching,” it’s just as effective, like keeping your eyes closed and just drifting off with a soundtrack to a little dream.
Hayes took the energy level down to play a solo acoustic set featuring songs from the Howl-era. That part of the set got the biggest, loudest reaction from the crowd (the second biggest was the piano-driven songs that showcase Robert Turner’s chops). Hayes’s rendition of “Fault Line” was heartbreakingly earnest and resigned simultaneously. That harmonica lick just digs its dirty, ragged fingernails into the folds of your brain and takes root. And “Devil’s Waitin’ ” showed Hayes does indeed have soul, his voice cracking at just the right moments, his sincerity is evident and riveting.
When Hayes was behind his acoustic and Turner behind his piano, it was an intimate and gorgeous departure from the sonic bombast of the rest of the band’s set. But when the guys Beatle-out on “Window,” it’s clear they are musicians first and foremost. Their sound is powerful and resonant live; it knocks you over in a way their records just hint at.