Show Review: Black Rebel Motorcycle Club @ The Del Mar Race Track

The Del Mar Race Track, mecca for young urban professionals and middle-aged equestrians, is probably the last place one would expect to see Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. Yet, their show on Friday night saw a surprisingly large turnout of fans and curious gamblers, fresh from a day at the horse races. As bassist and singer Robert Levon Been pointed out on stage, “I don’t know what horses have to do with our band, but you seem to get it.”And, indeed, they did.

Leather-clad twenty-somethings and gray-haired rockers alike descended upon the appropriately Jack Daniel’s-sponsored stage, ready to enjoy a night of distorted bass and blues. Cheers erupted as BRMC emerged at sunset, and without a word they took to a long string of hits. A dim spotlight fell upon Been, as he began to sing “Beat the Devil’s Tattoo.” The smooth and catchy jam was a perfect warm-up for the louder, harder tracks to come.

The trio, consisting of Been, singer and guitarist Peter Hayes and fairly new drummer Leah Shapiro, exuded cool. Sporting all black, lots of leather and dark shades, they all but disappeared into the stage’s backdrop. This, along with their nonchalant attitude and the drowning strobe lights, left them as enigmatic props cranking out consistently high quality tunes. Such an air of mystery can be intriguing, but in this case it was only frustrating.

It felt as if BRMC was simply going through the motions without making an effort to wow or even to entertain their audience. That is not to say that their performance was bad. They demonstrated their talent as musicians, but they failed to go above and beyond the routine.

Granted, this show was part of the race track’s summer concert series, which is free with a six dollar admission ticket to the races, and BRMC isn’t actually on tour to promote an album right now. That’s not much motivation to put your heart out on the stage. But considering that other big name bands like The Flaming Lips and Weezer have put on phenomenal race track shows in previous years, one would expect a more passionate performance from BRMC.

Lack of enthusiasm aside, their performance was just fine. Lasting about two hours, it took an in-depth survey of the band’s six-album discography with a strong focus on their more recent albums. I was surprised that they didn’t play much off of their most critically-acclaimed album Howl. (Perhaps they were still trying to market their 2010 release Beat the Devil’s Tattoo.)  Fans didn’t seem to mind though – they each sang along to most of the tracks performed, regardless of the release date.

The band’s most blues-heavy songs like “Ain’t No Easy Way” and “Fault Line” translated the best live, with passionate vocals and a soaring harmonica. “Shuffle Your Feet” was another crowd favorite, though it required two tries. Earlier in the set they attempted to play it, only to pause about 20 seconds in and move to a different song without much of an explanation as to why. Unfortunately, the audience had shrunk significantly by the time they got around to playing the entire song.

In fact, the audience diminished rather suddenly about half way through the set. BRMC unwisely chose to play most of their harder, upbeat songs first, leaving the last hour of their set dedicated to more down-tempo tracks. As a result, the audience – many of whom had been inebriated since four in the afternoon and were probably exhausted – grew impatient and more than half of the people had left by the end of the show.

BRMC played a solid set. The audience enjoyed themselves. And yet, despite the high volume of fans in attendance, there was a serious disconnect between the two groups. Based on their set list and their lack of performance energy, it seems the band either expected a bunch of wasted gamblers who didn’t actually know their music or a group of serious fans who were going to patiently sit through each song, as if they were at the symphony.

While I’m sure they attracted a bit of both types, the vast majority of the audience appeared to be fans who wanted to have some fun and experience BRMC firsthand. The performance that they got was instead comparable to a live recording – flawless in musical quality, but otherwise uninspiring and impersonal.

Erin Donaldson, Contributor

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