You must accept a few basic facts prior to listening/watching the new Black Rebel Motorcycle Club Live collection: (1) Black Rebel Motorcycle Club are the greatest band in the world, (2) they are worthy of a three-disc (two DVD and one CD) collection that is largely an advertisement for their latest album (2007’s Baby 81), and (3) live albums are best when they sound exactly like the studio versions, but with dry-boned production, a little crowd noise, and guitar riffs you can barely hear. If you are willing to accept those facts wholesale, Live may be in your top albums of the year.
If you’re not willing to accept these facts as I’ve laid them out, Live won’t mean much to you. It’s an audacious move by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, who are releasing Live as the first album from their own Abstract Dragon imprint (with distribution help from Vagrant), to expect that there is a marketplace clamoring for a live set, when they’re essentially a cult act everywhere, including in Ireland, Scotland and Berlin, the locales where this CD/DVD combo was recorded. For a band that’s main definer is their effortless cool (and their genre pilfering), releasing a four-hour live set that is made up of the band’s songs at louder volumes and lesser production is a gambit of incredible hubris.
The DVD, a collection of 22 songs recorded in Glasgow, Dublin and Berlin and woven together to look like one show, is the main draw here, since it’s heavy on atmosphere and mood and light on substance, just like Black Rebel Motorcylce Club. That said, I’m not sure these guys will ever top “Weight of the World,” which slays here (not so much for the rest of the Howl material, which has aged worse than the stuff from their first two albums). But the CD kills any charms of the DVD (the other DVD is fan-only unreleased footage), largely due to a reliance on Baby 81, Black Rebel’s most well-known album (due to “Weapon of Choice” being in a bunch of commercials and videogames and movies) but also indisputably worst. Even enthusiastic crowd chanting can’t save clunkers like “666 Conducer” and “Took Out A Loan.”
The old cliché that live albums are a shrewd way to sell the same fans the same product twice is always invoked in live reviews because it’s nearly always true. But I guess the silver-lining here is that Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s real motivation for releasing Live is that now they can start making some bank off their own songs, since until now, they’ve put all their eggs in the major label basket (first at Virgin, then at RCA) to meager returns. It’s the same reason Prince re-recorded all his old hits, and that’s noble in a way; the artist gets paid fairly for their art. If only what is here was worth the move for independence.