I’ve never been a huge Black Rebel Motorcycle Club obsessive—I ended up going to see them at the Vic on a bit of a lark. It seemed like the time was right to finally catch them live—‘Specter at the Feast’ is the best record they’ve released in years, the Vic is the best venue in town for bands at the post-Metro level plus their stop in town fell on my birthday. My birthday is historically a collision of amazingly awful circumstances—both times I’ve been fired were within a week of my birthday (my 32nd birthday was spent applying for unemployment before heading to Hot Doug’s), I’ve always had to work on the day when I’ve been employed and it’s always been laughable how awful people end up treating me while I’m there (it’s almost like they know), my Uncle passed away around the time of my 8th or 9th birthday requiring my parents to be out of town until the week afterward, etc. I’m sure the idea is clear—it’s almost always comically awful. I’ve come to expect it to be that way. This year I tried an experiment—since I was employed at a job I liked quite a bit for the first time in at least two years I decided that if I was going to have a good birthday I’d have to take it by force so I requested it off and the day after so that I could do whatever I wanted without worry of becoming a victim of circumstance. Also, my cousin was getting married in California on the 18th and my finances prevented me from going. This to me meant that enjoying my birthday was now an obligation. The experiment ended up succeeding.
Besides it being my birthday this show was a bit of a last hurrah. I’ve been going to shows since I was 16 and over the past few years I’ve become crotchety, curmudgeonly and misanthropic at a lot of the shows I end up making the effort to attend. As I’ve gone into detail in countless entries on this blog being in a giant group of people can be difficult for me and can often overshadow my enjoyment of the music. I’m going to try not to dwell on the awful douche-baggy lame crowd at the Vic. Here’s what I will say—parody of your standard annoying rock concert crowd—thousands of drunk people talking loudly over the music they paid $25 to chit-chat through while snapping pictures, texting, tweeting and instagramming the night away. Were any of them actually enjoying the fact that BRMC sounded fantastic that night and put on one hell of a show?! I don’t know, but it definitely wasn’t lost on me.
‘Specter at the Feast’ is thematically tied together by the passing of Michael Been, father of bassist Robert Turner. It’s anthemic, emotional, sweeping and intense. The only points where it dips in quality are where it deviates from its thematic core. Turner’s songwriting shines brighter than it ever has before and, to me, its emotional punch and gravitas makes it a notable release among the already overwhelming amount of great music that’s come out this year. It’s an incredibly wounded and heartfelt record in these apathetic, synthetic times where people seem to be dreaming their lives away in the glow of their fancy phones and digital lives. The most common criticism I’ve heard of the record? That it’s too cheesy. Nope. Not buying it, friends. If anyone would call foul for emotional cheese it’d be me and ‘Specter at the Feast’ seems beautifully heartfelt, brave and admirable to me.
The night got off to a good start with ‘Let the Day Begin,’ the impassioned cover of Been’s band the Call. The band tear through this song with a fire that is increasingly rare both live and on record. From there they mixed in a lot of older tracks with the rockier tracks from ‘Specter at the Feast’—‘Howl,’ ‘Baby 81,’ ‘Beat the Devil’s Tattoo’ and the self-titled debut. ‘Red Eyes and Tears’ got the biggest cheers from the crowd. People seemed to be enjoying themselves. Then Turner put on an acoustic guitar and talked about how he’s always enjoyed playing in Chicago and then announced a song that they don’t normally play. It was a beautiful and sad song and it was quiet, so naturally the crowd talked through the whole thing. Very loudly. I think it might have been ‘Mercy.’ It was difficult to make out the song over people’s talking. Next, Peter Hayes came out with an acoustic guitar and played ‘Complicated Situation’ (again tough to identify over the chatter) by himself and again people talked through the whole thing incredibly loudly. From there the audience was kind of lost. The band started the process of ramping back up the ferocity starting with ‘Fire Walker’ and ‘Returning’ (another beautiful and moving moment that people talked through incredibly loudly). It took ‘In Like the Rose’ to get people to finally shut up, which lead up to ‘Six Barreled Shotgun,’ ‘White Palms’ and the main set-ender ‘Spread Your Love.’ By then I was so sick of the crowd that I left despite the fact that I knew that an encore would promise ‘Sell It’ and ‘Lose Yourself,’ which is my favourite track on ‘Specter At the Feast.’ I couldn’t bear the idea of listening to a disrespectful douchey crowd talking loudly through a beautiful, moving song that I love about a son saying goodbye to his father forever (I’d imagine it’s a difficult song for Turner to perform every night). It just wasn’t going to happen. Just typing this makes me so angry I can’t even think straight—I could only imagine how I would’ve felt had I stuck around for the reality of it.
All in all, despite how angry I was when I left the show, I was impressed by the band’s professionalism. They put on a great show and constructed a setlist that flowed nicely—it had a similar feel to a Cure setlist which to me meant that they’ve proven themselves to be more than the one-trick pony they’re so often written off as. They didn’t play all of my favourites (I would’ve loved to have heard ‘Awake’ for example) but songs I had not been that amazed by made more sense in a live context. Sometimes this can be better than when a band plays every song you’re expecting. I also loved their bonkers light show, the fact that they lugged an upright piano around on this tour as well as a huge pile of amps. I’d also never noticed how much of the melodic colour in their songs is supplied by Turner, who has an impressively unorthodox approach to playing the bass.