I remember seeing Black Rebel Motorcycle Club for the first time. It was 2011, at the rain-soaked SWU Festival in Brazil, in the beginning of the afternoon. The band didn’t look like they were too comfortable being there – and really, who could blame them? The festival lineup focused more on the heavier, less alternative side of rock (BRMC performed just before Down, back when that band was still bookable), and the actual fans were few and far between. There were some nice moments, sure, but overall, not much to write home about. Even the band seemed to admit so in recent interviews. Last Friday, they got a chance to perform a proper gig in São Paulo, and it was worth the wait.
First things first: The show was a part of a “House Of Vans” event, a skate-focused party that was meant to show off Vans skateboards, sneakers and whatnot. The cool thing about it was the venue: Casa Das Caldeiras, an abandoned boiler house in São Paulo, giant chimneys and all. Unfortunately, its corporate nature meant that the only way to get tickets was through a prize drawing of sorts, where too many fans were left with no ticket. Thankfully, the band was graceful enough to give out 80 tickets on their Facebook page, and that’s how I got in, along with a bunch of other fans from all over Brazil. With tickets being non-transferable, some people got their name twice on the list, while others weren’t there at all.
It was quite the treat. Ever seen something so nicely done and tied together that it’s hard to even make a comment on? Well, that was BRMC. The fact that they hadn’t performed live at all since September 2015 didn’t seem to make a difference. Robert Levon Been even jokingly referenced the fact, saying maybe they wouldn’t remember how to play some songs, but hell, they were sharp and fantastic as usual. The setlist touched on all the expected singles of their discography, some recent material from Specter At The Feast, then added a few surprises. I never expected to see American X live, all ten minutes of it, and there it was; Awake was on my wishlist, and seeing it live was certainly a dream come true.
The band themselves also looked a lot more at home in this setting. Though the acoustics could be shit on occasion, that clearly didn’t stop or harm the performance. Robert Levon Been leaned into the crowd several times, and I caught Peter Hayes smiling more than a couple of times. Leah Shapiro is like the fucking Terminator, just systematically crushing those drums, over and over, with precise movements, never an inch out of place, barely an emotion to show. BRMC is a perfectly well-oiled machine at this point, and it should go without saying that Shapiro puts the emphasis on a certain part of that expression, in all the good ways.
This was my first gig seen from the railing, right in front of Mr. Been. Given the small stage set up at the venue, it was the closest I’ve ever been, or probably will ever be, to a band like this, and it was a sight to behold. It was in-between songs that I noticed just how ridiculously close I was: Robert was messing around on his pedals, turning effects on/off in silence, and I could hear the actual clicks of the pedals. On the downside, being that close to bass amps, I was a bit overwhelmed by bass thump throughout most of the gig.
So, yes, BRMC did more than enough to vindicate their first, unfortunate performance in Brazil from five years ago. It’s a shame that less than one thousand people got to see it.