It’s 9pm on a Monday evening in July, and outside the Paradiso the people of Amsterdam are basking in the still-hot sun, drinking beers in pavement cafes and watching the cyclists go by. Inside, however, is like another world – Black Rebel Motorcycle Club are half an hour into their set on an almost completely dark stage, picked out only by the occasional blue or green spotlight. It’s like watching a gig in the Batcave.
It’s now been fifteen years since BRMC first slouched on to the music scene. Along with the Strokes and the White Stripes, they were part of a new, exciting explosion in guitar music, but while their contemporaries went onto mega stardom, bust-ups and supergroups, BRMC remained enigmatic, flying below the radar and simply making the music that they wanted to make.
With seven albums under their belts, this inscrutable trio has enough material to sink a ship, and they waste no time in rattling through tracks from across their career. They open with the title track from 2010’s Beat the Devil’s Tattoo, and despite some minor technical glitches, by the second song there are even the beginning of a mosh pit down the front – a rare sight at a Dutch gig, I can tell you. The likes of ‘Rival’, ‘Weapon of Choice’ and the folky inflections of ‘Ain’t No Easy Way Out’ all go down a storm, raising sing-alongs and enthusiastic dancing, particularly from the drunk girl standing next to me.
For me some of the highpoints of the evening are the quieter, more introspective moments – the gorgeous ‘Returning’ is delivered to an almost reverential hush, and Leah Shapiro’s hypnotic drums transform ‘Salvation’ into a sort of modern hymn. Both Peter Hayes and Robert Been take turns to deliver solo spots, and Been regales the audience with a story of taking MDMA at a previous Amsterdam gig (‘it was the loudest, fucking beautiful, crazy thing I ever heard’). You see, their onstage banter might be few and far between, but what they do say is pretty hilarious. He follows it up with an acoustic version of ‘Long Way Down’, turning the slightly woozy, usually piano-led song into a fragile, wistful lullaby. Beautiful.
With their set already over two hours, we’re treated to a few more before they leave the stage for the first time. ‘Stop’ and ‘Awake’ receive particularly enthusiastic reactions for the otherwise relatively sedate lowlands – during the latter, one girl even manages to majestically crowdsurf her way around the entire room. The only minor drawback is the band’s tendency to turn every track into an extended jams; even audiences as fanatical as this will flag a bit when songs hit the 8-minute mark, and it is a Monday night after all. (Or perhaps I’m just getting old!)
That said, there aren’t many problems that can’t be cured with good old rock and roll, tired gig-goers included. After returning to the stage for acoustic versions of both ‘Shuffle Your Feet’ and ‘Love Burns’, the audience is sent packing with the one-two punch of ‘Spread Your Love’ and, of course, ‘Whatever Happened To My Rock and Roll’. Because after fifteen years on the road, BRMC know how to send people home happy.