Black Rebel Motorcycle Club: Synergy swamp-rock  

by Evan Milton

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club plumb the depths of down-home Southern rock on their latest album - now the band once hailed as 'the saviours of rock 'n roll' will headline South Africa's Synergy 2011.

They've been called everything from called everything from "swamp-rock stompers" to "psychedelic rock" and labelled as everything from "Brit-pop wannabes" to the "rightful heirs to the guitar-drenched mantle of The Jesus And Mary Chain" but Black Rebel Motorcycle Club are more interested in making music than in how other people classify their songs. With the renewed vigour of a new drummer, Leah Shapiro (ex Raveonettes), founder members Peter Hayes (vocals, guitar, synthesizer) and Robert Levon Been (vocals, bass, piano) emerged in early 2010 with a new album and a two year world tour that comes to Cape Town by way of South America. "Beat The Devil's Tattoo" is the band's sixth studio album and sees them returning to a blend of swamp-born fuzzed our guitars, thick bass-lines and driving rhythms, and a quietly determined sense of where their music fits into the ongoing legacy of rock 'n roll. They are a superb addition to the bumper crop of top-rung touring bands South Africa has enjoyed in 2011.
"It's great to be coming to South Africa," says Hayes by telephone from the USA a week before their South American stint starts. "The main thing in the band is that we want to be able to travel; we want to go everywhere with our music. We played in Argentina and in and around Mexico City a while back, so it's good to be going back there, and then to be going further south."
"Beat The Devil's Tattoo" was recorded during a six month period where the band was holed up in the same Philadelphia house where their seminal record, "Howl", was recorded in 2005. Been was quoted as saying, "It was like a family again; living together and working really closely. Something happened to us out there though, I’m not sure if we beat back our demons, or if we just let them take us over completely. But strange days make for strange times." Expect an album that has a vintage edge to it, with a comfortable sense of homage to the greats like Led Zeppelin and Sonic Youth, nods to Black Rebel Motorcycle Club's time touring with The Dandy Warhols and their affiliation to noise-aligned outfits like Dinosaur Jr and The Jesus And Mary Chain.
Never shy of politically commentary and musical controversy, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club raised some eyebrows with the title of their new album. "The devil is linked to everything, and so is god," says Hayes. "How we see it, is that it affects all our lives. People have extreme beliefs and not so extreme beliefs and those people affect everyone else, even if they choose not to believe in anything particular. It's like if you're talking about the government or anything else that affects our lives. People don't all believe the same thing, and it might not be negative or positive, but it's something that we all have to deal with." It's also a pedigree rock 'n roll album with a pedigree rock 'n roll title.
The new album is the second on the band's own label, Abstract Dragon, following their instrumental debut "The Effects of 333". "It's a lot more simple being on our own label," says Hayes. "We can do what we do, and there's no record company breathing down our necks telling is that we need to live up to a magazine calling us 'the saviours of rock 'n roll'," laughs Hayes, referring to an accolade heaped on the band's first offerings "B.R.M.C." and "Take Them On, On Your Own" by Britain's "NME" music publication. "It's a record company's job to make things like that into a reality and try and create something very big with every artist. I don't think they know how to sell music any other way. It's nice, now, not having to deal with those sorts of issues."
What, then, can South African audiences expect from the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club's first ever performance on African soil? "It's the same that we give to anyone, really," says Hayes, as though he is puzzled by the question. "We play the music off every album, and try to give people a musical journey of what we've been doing. That about sums it up: us and our music. There's no magic show or anything that goes along with it and, hopefully, that's enough."
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club headline the rock stage at Synergy, alongside electro headliners Dirtyloud (Brazil). Also on the rock stage are Gauteng's The Narrow,  Isochronous and Desmond and the Tutus and Cape stars Taxi Violence, aKing and more (Friday 25 to Sunday 27 November, Boschendal Wine Estate, Franschhoek Valley, tickets, outlets and gate; R380 to R450 for two-day and three-day passes; R150 for Sunday-only pass); details on More on and Facebook.

*First appeared in the Cape Argus "Good Weekend" of 2011/ 11/06

Music journalist, Digital marketing strategist, SA Music Awards judge and radio DJ for Fine Music Radio.

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