If anyone at Coachella wondered where the Jesus and Mary Chain’s echo and feedback got off to, they can stop worrying. Their thuggishly loud guitar effects turned up at the Wiltern Tuesday night with Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. It was a good thing, too, because the noises BRMC (expanded to a quartet live) pulled from their guitars (up to three at any time) was the most interesting thing about the Los Angeles trio’s (expanded to a quartet on the road) show.
The songs are nothing much to talk about, mostly stripped down rewrites of Chicago blues or T-Rex. The band isn’t much to watch either, as they remain firmly in the shoegazer camp. The music does evince a certain confidence and swagger, but that’s mostly due to the unfussy swing of Nick Jago’s drumming which, like most power-trios (a fourth member, Michael “Spike” Keating is on hand to add redundant layers of acoustic guitar) splits the difference between coming off as a lead instrument and part of the rhythm section. But the guitars, their reverb undulating and spreading like the radio waves on old RKO logo, give the music a delirious expansiveness; take them away and the songs deflate like balloons.
“Berlin”–from their just released RCA album, “Baby 81” (itself a return to form after the misnamed, countryish “Howl”)–basically “Got Love If You Want It” pared down to the bare minimum, gets it’s sinister atmosphere from the billowing whorls of feedback that hang over the song like smoke in a seedy bar. “666 Conducer” is a lasciviously slowed down version of T-Rex’s “Mambo Sun,” that comes alive with Peter Hayes’
barbed, predatory guitar solo. But the descending piano figure at the center of “Windows” stumbles; the song has the sour, snappish edge of “Walls and Bridges” era John Lennon but that’s not enough to sustain the song over it’s six-minute length. Even less interesting is the nearly guitar-free arrangement of “Rifles,” although Robert Levon Been’s trombone playing is a welcome surprise, but it’s really no substitute.
But no amount of distortion and can save “American X” a churning, two chord drone that aims for a heft and seriousness beyond the band’s reach. BMRC are not a band built for epic gestures and, performed at the end of their set, when the band has pretty much emptied out their bag of tricks, it thunders monotonously for nine minutes.
BRMC plays Gotham’s Webster Hall May 31.