It’s not hard to imagine Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s trio appreciating fatalism. Since forming the primal band 20 years ago, founding members Peter Hayes and Robert Levon Been – high-school friends on vocals, guitar and bass – have solemnly adhered to the leather, cigarettes and sunglasses look, and their newest member, drummer Leah Shapiro, has the house style down, preferring to focus, like the string section, on pursuing rock’s capacity to unsettle.
So when Hayes, who has spoken of his desire to scare with the rumbling thrill of volcanic instrumentals, namechecks Halloween, he sounds more convincing than your usual touring artist humouring fans in fake blood, spooking himself with the memory of a previous visit when a tumble from the stage caused these telepathic warriors a few real scars.
They manage to avoid any injurious pitfalls tonight. An at-times confrontational colossus of murky sound emerges from the darkness, with an initial backdrop of molten lights making them resemble those other semi-gothic seethers, The Jesus And Mary Chain, who filled this stage with sledgehammer attitude two years ago.
Although the floor doesn’t quite look like it might succumb, as was the case when BRMC were forced to adjourn a gig at Leeds Town Hall, it does get a mighty testing during ‘Beat The Devil’s Tattoo’, a signature of the Club in which bodies ache and bones break across their favoured lyrical themes of lust and scorn.
The set lasts more than two hours, and they spend most of the time on their default setting. They create an enormous amount of noise, underpinned by Shapiro’s gladiatorial drumming (including the showy introduction of two extra drum kits) and a succession of brazen guitar grooves. Two songs from their self-titled debut, ‘Spread Your Love’ and ‘Love Burns’, cause uproar, an effect which leads to inevitable lulls on their dirgier numbers. But they’re also more tender and fragile than their indomitable image suggests: on ‘Lullaby’, Been sits on a monitor and sings, alone and unplugged, about a helpless wander “til I’ve got no shadow”.
The album the song comes from, 2013’s ‘Specter At The Feast’, was partly in tribute to Been’s father, Michael, the band’s producer and technician before his death during a tour in 2010. ‘Some Kind Of Ghost’, from the same recordings, is also performed acoustically – a bleak, sparse measure of soul which shows they can do delicacy as well as all the swagger.
The Horrors, Brighton Dome, Tuesday 31st October 2017
Words by Ben Miller
Photos by Ashley Laurence