Black Rebel Motorcycle Club @ Brixton Academy

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club at Brixton Academy, April 2013
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club at Brixton Academy, April 2013. Photo: Rosie Wadey

The opening drumbeats of ‘Let The Day Begin‘ are joined by growling chords that emerge thick and juicy like steak. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club have made this cover of a 1989 track by The Call their own, charring the optimistic, bouncing, organ-enriched rocker into a bleaker number, plaintive notes hanging in a cloud of reverb.

For the opening date of their tour it also strikes a tone for the rest of the set, in turn salutatory and melancholy. Their seventh album, ‘Specter At The Feast’ harks back to the blues country folk maudlin of 2005’s superb ‘Howl’, overshadowed as it is by the titular spectre of Michael Been – frontman of The Call, father to BRMC singer/bassist Robert Been, and BRMC sound engineer/fourth band member – who died of a heart attack backstage at a gig three years ago. The resulting sense of loss hangs obviously over this album, though not necessarily to any detriment – if anything it forms a welcome break from a run of uninspired rock-by-numbers albums.

Through the barely lit darkness on stage Been and singer/guitarist Peter Hayes are cowled underneath hoodies, the only colour from amber spots on latest drummer, ex-Raveonette Leah Shapiro. The crowd is a mix of young and not-so-young wafts of blonde in leopard-print (so 2001), jowly silver foxes and callow youths, which if anything shows the cross-generation appeal of BRMCs fuzz-rock (as anyone who’d heard scuzzy shoegaze forebears like Spiritualized, The Jesus and Mary Chain and Spacemen 3 thirty years ago knows).

The pitch-bend and chopped riffs of ‘Red Eyes And Tears‘ are greeted by a cheer from the head nodding crowd at the back and the body nodding crowd at the front, followed by ‘Hate The Taste‘ from the new album and ‘Beat The Devil’s Tattoo’ from the last. But it takes older material to set the gig alight – ‘Whatever Happened To My Rock ‘N’ Roll‘ is greeted by sallies of flying pint glasses as arms and legs go up and over down the front, and the harmonica-drenched blues stomp of ‘Ain’t No Easy Way‘ still sounds fantastic.

But then the set takes an introspective turn, with alternate solo performances from both frontmen on piano, organ and guitar. In contrast to the band’s sunglasses-at-night, leather-clad rock reputation many of their finest pieces of songcraft are their calmer numbers – we hear gentle, regretful ‘Devil’s Waitin’‘, organ-led ‘Howl‘, and a slew of new tracks. The delayed refrain and overdriven guitars of ‘Love Burns‘, their opening salvo from 2001, still sparkle now, even through tonight’s uncharacteristically quiet sound system. So while each outing of early material is greeted by wild cheers and leaping, with raucous renditions of ‘Six Barrel Shotgun’ and ‘Spread Your Love‘, a second batch of downtempo numbers threatens to try the crowd’s patience.

BRMC’s first album landed at a time when overproduced nu-metal and shiny tween pop-punk ruled the charts. It was visceral, soulful, and songs like ‘Salvation‘ felt like exactly that. It was timely, paved the way for a catalogue of great (and not-so-great) garage rockers over the coming decade, and rightfully remains a classic. But ten years later, against the short attention span of the internet where new genres blossom and fade in weeks and new music is everywhere, the band plough a furrow that seems increasingly dated. And while the new material is a welcome change of tone, it’s not always easy listening for fans.

[Originally published at Clashmusic.com, April 2013]

Viv Albertine @ Nambucca

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Achieving some degree of fame or notoriety while barely out of their teens, guitarist Viv Albertine, singer Ari Up, bassist Tessa Pollitt and drummer Palmolive forged in The Slits an uncompromising, all-girl punk sound. Refusing to blindly follow punk’s musical memes, debut album ‘Cut’ was infused with Ari’s love of reggae and portrayed the women on the cover as wild, naked and covered in mud – naked defiance towards society and the male-ego-dominated music business. After six years and two albums The Slits split in 1982. Albertine trained in film, made a career for herself as a director, got married, and had a daughter. You know, life stuff.

And then life stuff happened. In interviews Albertine has been fairly candid about how the disintegration of her marriage and re-evaluation of life as a fifty-something fuelled the creative process that produced 2010’s Flesh EP and last year’s debut album The Vermillion Border. “I buried Viv Albertine from The Slits, I absolutely squashed her,” she said last month of her 18-year marriage. But some things cannot be kept down.

Stepping on to great cheers, Albertine is resplendent in a short, sparkly black dress and knee high boots. “Do you like my boots? They’re Biba,” she says. “Can you see them at the back? No of course you can’t, don’t be silly,” she scolds the affirmations from the darkness, to laughs.

Re-learning her skills after twenty-five years, Albertine’s songs are disarming, deeply personal, often brutal and frequently funny. She is utterly without pretention and seems quite at ease on stage, despite decades of absence. Her guitarwork is jangly and ringing, atonal chords played right up at the neck. While she admits that she’s not the best guitarist or singer, her songs bare a compelling honesty.

On ‘Don’t Believe‘, written after the death of her estranged father, she contrasts the indubitable existence of the physical world with the vague promises of love and healing we repeat emptily to ourselves through tired, linguistic clichés: “Time does not heal, time’s not on my side/Time will tell you nothing, and time cannot fly/I believe in glass, I believe in heat/I believe in rust, in aluminium sheets/…but I don’t believe in love.” The rallying cry ‘I Want More’ speaks of both women finding fulfilment away from expectations placed upon them, but also as a gasp of realisation from someone waking up to middle age to find the ground has shifted underneath them. Even when she restarts ‘Life’s Too Short To Be Shy’ twice (because “I can tune my guitar but I can’t tune my voice”) the audience egg her on. “It’s OK, I don’t really care,” she says. “I’m definitely not shy any more.”

She ends on the wonderfully titled ‘Confessions Of A Milf’, a lyrically acid take on marriage (“A man needs a maid, a maid of his own/A maid needs a muse, and a room of her own”) that winds itself up into a mantra of frustration: “Cleaning, shopping, faking, cleaning, shaking, baking, fucking, faking…”

Quavering voice, music and lyrics that are not always easy listening, Viv Albertine 2.0 will not be to everyone’s tastes. But here she is, now 57, responding to life as she knows how, because she wants to, and without giving a fuck what anyone else thinks. Just as she did 35 years ago. And it doesn’t get much more punk that.

[Words and pictures originally published at Clashmusic.com]

FIDLAR @ The Garage, Highbury

FIDLAR’s tracks are propulsive, catchy rackets drenched in cheap power-chord riffs and calls to drink beer, smoke weed, grab a skate board and flick everyone the bird. “Fuck school, fuck going to work, fuck all that,” says singer Zac Carper helpfully. “Start a band. I mean, if we can do it…”

 
[Words and pictures originally published at Clashmusic.com]

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FIDLAR @ The Garage, Highbury

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FIDLAR are recent cousins in a family of West Coast hardcore bands that stretches back through Black Flag and the Circle Jerks to The Germs. Unlike the social commentary, paranoid conspiracies, anti-establishmant rants or nihilism espoused by their musical forefathers however, FIDLAR are more like angrily riffing Beach Boys – a slice of the former’s surf-bum devil-may-care-while-it’s-sunny attitude dunked into the power-pop-punk of their nearer Californian contemporaries Green Day and Blink 182 (they cover ‘Dammit‘).

Their tracks are propulsive, catchy rackets drenched in cheap power-chord riffs and calls to drink beer, smoke weed, grab a skate board and flick everyone the bird. “Fuck school, fuck going to work, fuck all that,” says singer Zac Carper helpfully. “Start a band. I mean, if we can do it…”

So while FIDLAR (from a skater acronym, Fuck It Dog Life’s A Risk) aren’t going to bring about the Decline of Western Civilisation anytime soon, nor leave the government quaking in their boots, they still kick out a mighty roar that has the teenage element here at The Garage leaping about like they’re hepped up on E102.

“This song’s about rehab, rehab is shit because you can’t drink,” he tells the breathless audience – who nod, barely comprehending the horror of it all – as they launch into the upbeat ‘No Waves‘.

It’s mayhem down the front as fan after fan pour over the barrier, security barely able to keep up with the assault of flailing legs and arms at first, and later completely succumbing to stage incursions and adventurous dives into the crowd across a six foot gap. Not everyone makes it. One tiny girl, five foot nothing in shorts and a gingham shirt, is deposited from on high into the arms of waiting bouncers who waft her down to earth whereupon she scampers back to repeat her airborne journey again and again, grinning ear to ear. Minimal band T-shirts just read “FIDLAR CHEAP BEER”, while behind the front few rows the mosh pit is full-on, without actually inspiring violence, and rank with the smell of hot, beer-drenched sweaty bodies who roar along to the shout-tastic chorus of ‘Cheap Beer‘: “I. Drink. Cheap. Beer. So. What. Fuck. You.”

Ironically, for all their hardcore sounds, with a short singer sporting a Union Jack shirt, a tall bassist with too-short trousers and a beanie, a drummer with a big mop of hair, and their generally good-natured vibe, they’re almost like the Monkees of punk.

FIDLAR serve up the in-your-face, three-chords-is-enough attitude of punk in a vessel carved from the sounds of Californian hardcore rather than the British bands of 1977, and it’s great fun for all that. Heading away from the stage, the army of ardent, silky-skinned fans at the front are replaced with the beards, jowls and wrinkles of an older crowd, where frenetic mosh-pit plunging makes way for the more restrained “aggressive head nod” style of dancing, but the wide grins on faces throughout show that what FIDLAR do appeals to anyone with a taste for balls-out music with an attitude to match. They’ll probably conquer the world, by accident.

 

[Words and pictures originally published at Clashmusic.com]