It’s impressive to find Black Rebel Motorcycle Club returning to Chicago to celebrate its 20th anniversary with an album as electrifying as “Wrong Creatures.” It was never a question of BRMC’s quality – the trio just seemed too stubborn to last this long. The band that stormed alternative radio with the sonic rush of 2001’s “Whatever Happened to My Rock ‘n’ Roll (Punk Song)” didn’t attain mainstream saturation, but its willfulness fueled a never-say-die attitude and determination to evolve on its own terms. Connecting with likeminded fans, BRMC emerged as survivors and innovators.
Guitarist/singer Peter Hayes recognizes other important factors related to the band’s longevity, citing the trust between himself and bassist/singer Robert Levon Been. “We try to give each other room,” says Hayes. “No one’s trying to take over and seem more important than the other.”
BRMC’s winter tour brings fresh material from its eighth album to the Vic Theatre. The trio was originally known for a feral sound reminiscent of groups including the Jesus and Mary Chain, Velvet Underground, and My Bloody Valentine. By 2005’s “Howl,” the group had shifted toward an acoustic-based but muscular roots-rock sound. “Wrong Creatures” mines BRMC’s past while updating its psychedelic garage-rock with blues, goth, glam and experimental textures.
“Question of Faith” inherits the dark throb and twang of early standout “Red Eyes and Tears,” with shades of Echo and the Bunnymen and the Doors. The song describes a frustrated willingness to meet any demands just to dispose of an antagonist. “There’s a little bit of questioning science and religion in that one,” says Hayes. “Some people feel that only one can be right, and they don’t belong together. Then, there’s the point of view that says, ‘You can have it both ways; get the f––– out of my way.’ It’s about reaching the place with the arguments and theories where you say, ‘I’ll give you the point. Now, shut up, and let’s move on.’”
Buzzing bass and distressed metallic sounds spike the surging “Little Thing Gone Wild,” propelled by thundering drummer Leah Shapiro. Familiar undercurrents of alienation, rebellion and mistrust of established structures run through the song and others like “Spook.” Hayes insists that the purpose isn’t to sow despair. Rather, the cathartic songs can be used to encourage and connect. “I try to find hope in all of them, even the ones that seem dark,” he says. “It’s up to the listener to take something in a dark way. If that’s medicine to help them think, ‘I’m not the only one that feels this way,’ that can offer hope.”
New single “Echo” nods to Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side,” with loping bass and Shapiro’s brushed snare shuffle. The chorus bursts forth like sunshine breaking from behind clouds. On an album that exorcises a legion of demons, “Echo” radiates love and support. Hayes extends BRMC’s internal unity to its audience. “With all the talk of destruction and hopeless feelings, that song says, ‘We’re all in this together,’ he says.
Jeff Elbel is a local freelance writer.