Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – Live at Academy 1, Manchester 05/12/2010

By Laura Hughes

It’s bloody cold in Manchester tonight. There’s enough ice on Oxford Road to host the Winter Olympics and the security staff patrolling the door are checking tickets so slowly, you suspect they’ve begun to freeze over. Nevertheless, an army of shaggy-haired Black Rebel fans have descended on Academy 1, each hoping for a repeat performance of April’s blistering Ritz gig, albeit this time with gloves, scarves and a new-found ability to ice skate on pavements.

The change of venue has sparked a noticeable shift in atmosphere. The bouncy dancefloor and ballroom feel have been replaced by a vast aircraft-hangar of space – an echoey black hole chewing up any kind of instrumental subtlety and spitting out raw, ear-splitting noise.

Thick clouds of cigarette smoke fill the air and for a moment, it doesn’t matter that your lukewarm cider has been served in a plastic cup by an arsy-looking student, clearly put out at being made to work on a Sunday night. This is proper music.

The band slink on stage in pitch darkness as the crowd jostle for warmth. Rather than explosive, distorted noise, the nonchalant slow burn of ‘666 Conducer’ snakes its way out of the speakers.

Silhouetted, swaying against white lights, the three-piece are so painstakingly cool that suddenly the blizzard outside looks toasty in comparison.
Founder members Peter Hayes and Robert Levon-Been eyeball the crowd with appreciative smiles, an earnest acknowledgement of “Thanks” their only sound before unleashing the anthemic ‘Stop’.

Relatively-new drummer Leah Shapiro clearly relishes only her second UK outing with the band. As former touring percussionist for Spector-influenced Danish duo The Raveonettes, she’s clearly well within her comfort zone as she pummels the skins like a healthier-looking Alexa Chung, arms flailing like surprisingly strong tree branches.

Having journeyed from Jesus & Mary Chain-esque reverb-drenched walls of noise via country/blues-tinged experimentation and back again, the trio are in a position to cherry-pick from six studio albums worth of material. Not so complacent as to use the evening as a platform solely for new material, they plough through ‘Red Eyes and Tears’ and ‘Whatever Happened to My Rock and Roll (Punk Song)’ from 2001 debut ‘BRMC’ in quick succession.

The latter especially, a song they’ve played hundreds of times before but their frantic joint vocals ring out with as much snarl and menace as on record.

The mood dips slightly during ‘Annabel Lee’, and the crowd whisper amongst themselves during a lengthy organ solo, before Hayes straps on a harmonica for stomping single ‘Ain’t No Easy Way’. Fan favourite ‘Spread Your Love’ is the first song of the encore, and unsurprisingly the now-thoroughly-defrosted crowd bounce off the ceiling like leather jacket-clad rubber balls.

It’s only then that the pair address the crowd. “We wrote this song in Manchester” Levon-Been smiles by way of introducing ‘Shadow’s Keeper’, after which Shapiro leaves the stage. The remaining twosome end the night with the droning, almost-acapella ‘Open Invitation’, their ghostly harmonies echoing through the night long after they leave the stage. A band of few words – tonight, the music did the talkin

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