Black Rebel Motorcycle Club | Photo by Wendy McCardle for WXPN | wendymccardle.com
“The Music With Which You Want to Go Down Swinging”: Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Death From Above 1979 rock a pre-Election Night crowd at The Fillmore
‘Twas the night before Election, and at the front of the house, a Canadian was declaring, “You’re gonna remember tonight. And it won’t have a damn thing to do with us.” Sebastien Grainger, one-half of Ontario-based duo Death From Above 1979, was only one-half correct in that sentiment.
As most of Philadelphia’s music-loving population were gathered just a few blocks south to witness Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi help Hillary Clinton in her final push toward a presidency that would not come to be, the rest of us assembled at The Fillmore to exorcise our anxiety over the coming days with the formidable double-headliner of Death From Above 1979 and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. While we may have been teetering on the edge of doom – moreso than we even realized – we were surrounded by the music with which you would want to go down swinging.
The night began with a truly fantastic set by Los Angeles rock duo Deap Vally. Promoting their sophomore effort, Femijism, Deap Vally bring a healthy dose of punk rebellion with playful, sometimes booty shaking melodies built atop menacing riffs and driving yet funky beats. Straightforward and honest lyricism as in “Smile More”, where vocalist Lindsey Troy sings, “I am not ashamed of my mental state / And I’m not ashamed of my body weight / And I’m not ashamed of my rage / And I’m not ashamed of my age,” provided the only empowerment and catharsis I’ve experienced in this flaming dumpster of a week.
Sonically, Deap Vally lands somewhere between early Yeah Yeah Yeahs and The Kills, but with far sharper fangs. As the only band on the lineup with a new album to promote, Deap Vally delivered the most compelling and refreshing set of the evening. In the near future, your attention to their “Femejism” will be imperative to your own mental health, seeing as though we’re staring down the barrel of another four years of patriarchal oppression.
Death From Above 1979 followed to channel the cauldron of fear bubbling in our gut with an intense, heavy, schizophrenic blast of sound. Although I have to admit, after Deap Vally’s set, it felt a little stale despite all its power. It made more sense when I saw Death From Above a year ago, as openers for a different double-headliner – Deftones and Incubus. During that tour, they were the young, bare-boned but big-balled breath of fresh air before two Aughties juggernauts. This time around, they were a noisy distraction after an act that had something far more important to say.
I mean this as constructive criticism. I’m pretty sure the point of this whole tour, for both headliners, was to retest the waters of their audience before diving back in with new material. As disciples of Jack White, whose guitar/drummer duo format we are perpetually blessed or plagued with depending on how you look at it, Death From Above will have to head back to the laboratory to figure out a way to avoid formula.
Much more hope and promise were exhibited by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, who didn’t feel a tad bit rusty even though it’s been three years since their last visit and in that time, drummer Leah Shapiro had to overcome a severe illness. The Los Angeles-based trio was surely testing its own endurance with a set filled with its heaviest and in turn, most crowd-friendly material. From “Ain’t No Easy Way” to “Conscience Killer” to “Whatever Happened To My Rock ‘n’ Roll”, the setlist was propelled by pure muscle but any dedicated BRMC fan will tell you that in doing that, they were only revealing one side of themselves. This was Monday Night Motorcycle Club, if you will. Only in glimpses, as in “Shuffle Your Feet”, “In Like The Rose” and the back-to-back premiere of two new songs, “Bandung Hum” and “Haunt”, did we see just how cerebral, psychedelic and wholeheartedly sincere they can be.
But as with Death From Above 1979, the point of this tour isn’t about digging deep into a band’s psyche or repertoire. For all intents and purposes, the evening succeeded for all three bands as a quick and tidy means to whet our appetite for what’s to come. Lord knows we’ll need their musical therapy more than ever in the days ahead. That realization was never more clear than in the moments BRMC began to wind down the evening and the aching realization set in that we would soon have to return to the real world. They’ve never been a particularly talkative band, but this wasn’t just any other night. “I don’t think we’ve ever played a show the night before an election,” shared vocalist/bassist Robert Levon Been. He continued, “Whatever happens, just remember the great thing about rock ‘n’ roll is we don’t give a shit whose side you’re on”. I noticed an unusual scene before me – there were no raised phones taking pictures, no sea of blue LED screens. Just outstretched hands reaching to grasp the kind of freedom only music can provide. As we made our way back out into the cold November night, BRMC’s parting words echoed in our heads with a poignancy that perhaps wouldn’t register until the following day, but surely we would remember to “spread your love like a fever, and don’t you ever come down.”