Just another quiet night at the library in the dark then? No seriously, it is
At 8.45pm precisely 1,000 MDMAzed Glasgow squealagers howl their bowels up through their gullets as the carnival curtain draws back to reveal an exact replica of Dick’n’Dom’s bungalow. Centre stage, Vernon Kay riding a llama shouts, “’Ey up, chucky-chucks! Here’s Black Rebel Motorcycle Cluuuuub!” and to a volley of glitter cannons BRMC, dressed as cheerleaders, drive onstage in a clown’s car playing ‘La Cucaracha’ on its wonky horn. As they reach the mics the doors fall off, Nick Jago, Robert Levon Been (né Turner) and Peter Hayes tumble out and somersault into a human pyramid, yelling “GIVE ME A B! GIVE ME AN L! GIVE ME AN A…”
Well, no, of course they don’t. Like the waning of the moon, the turning of the seasons and the posting of a MySpace bulletin inviting 20,000 people to come and trash your house, you know what to expect from a Black Rebel gig. So to an ominous throb, on marches the original Black Parade – some in hoodies, most scowling, all backlit into anonymous shadow-men – and launches, without introduction, into a dark-edged Jesus And Mary Chain-ish rock song called ‘Berlin’.
Having picked up precisely arse-all in the way of showmanship from their support slot on The Killers’ arena tour, there’ll be no dancing girls, no techno interludes, no surprise duets with Beth Ditto. It might be a glorious spring Saturday night in Glasgow but every day is a wet Monday at midnight for these dour droogs. The pedals are set to ‘Bunnymen shimmer’, the storm clouds are in their heavens and all is wonderfully bleak in Black Rebel world.
All of which makes it very difficult to be excited about a BRMC comeback – it’d be a bit like camping overnight for a Woody Allen film or emailing Tesco every day for a month to tell them you’re desperate to try their new delivery of Heinz Spaghetti Hoops. Much was made of the trad blues direction of third album ‘Howl’ – either a brave step toward mainstream maturity (certainly tonight’s run-through of the organ swaddled title track sounds like Coldplay snorting Neil Young’s ashes) or a sign that they’re racing through a replica of the Mary Chain’s career so quickly they got to the ill-advised country album 10 years too early. Tonight, tracks from new album ‘Baby 81’ may not be drinking diesel amphetamine from quite the same tarmac table as their earliest satanic roars, but they’re speeding in the same direction. New single ‘Weapon of Choice’ doesn’t just emulate ‘Whatever Happened To My Rock And Roll (Punk Song)’, it aspires to be it. Like Daniel Radcliffe doing another Harry Potter after getting his whanger out in the West End, this is less a surprising return to form, more a reassuring return to type.
True, some of the six new tracks unveiled tonight sport unexpected garbs: there’s a hearty Jet-meets-T.Rex stomp to ‘Berlin’, ‘Cold Wind’ dips into Joy Division atmospherics (although when they play the first album’s ‘Awake’ straight afterwards, it’s as if they’ve put the Arabic bits on it just so they could tell them apart, like giving one twin a fez), and more surprising still, ‘Line On Your Dreams’ wraps My Bloody Valentine noise crescendos around the riff from AC/DC’s (you guessed it) ‘Back In Black’. But it’s only Robert’s brilliant pop sugar-drop ‘Not What You Wanted’ that really breaks buzzrock ranks.
The awesome ‘Red Eyes And Tears’ and ‘Spread Your Love’ tweak the nostalgic nodes at times, but it’s not enough. With the first half hour filed under ‘Plodding Noise Grenades’, the second under ‘Iggy/Primals/Ramones Drone Punk By Numbers’ and such set-saving hits as ‘Love Burns’, ‘Stop’ and ‘Ain’t No Easy Way’ under ‘Not Played At All’, this is as anonymous and characterless as rock music gets without Milburn being involved. No words, no faces, no slogans, no politics (that we can hear properly anyway), no passion, no pomp, no point. Someone, please, bring on the dancing horses.